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Friday, February 22, 2013

Fifty Cents and a Dream, written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2012. $18.50 ages 8 and up

"The strange marks marched and danced across the page, making him smile and laugh with joy. But slaves like him were not allowed to read. A black boy caught with a book could be whipped - or worse. When he walked his master's daughter to school, he carried her books, and his fingers would linger..."

As you will know if you have been reading this blog, I have a great love for picture book biography and I tout these books as a way to introduce our children and students to people they might otherwise never know. I have often said that if, in school, we took one half hour each week to read a truly great pbb, our students would come to know the story of forty new and relevant people from past and present history. Not much pain for great gain!

This story of Booker T. Washington allows us into the life of a boy with a read and write. Once emancipated, he follows that dream along a long road...a five hundred mile journey toward the magic of school.

"Most of all, he longed to learn.
Booker dreamed
of making friends with words,
setting free the secrets
that lived in books."

We, who live in Canada, have little knowledge of the man; but, we can be inspired by his rise from illiterate slave to learned leader. This inspiring book allows a clear look at his unquenchable need for learning. When his mother gave him a spelling book his course was set:

"Each morning at dawn,
Booker rose and hurried to work.
He shoveled, hauled and packed,
then raced to a school for Negroes.
In a tiny, crowded room,
Booker studied his lessons."

It was not enough. He longed for more. When he heard about the Hampton Institute, he knew what he wanted. Working long hours and saving as much as he could from his meager pay, Booker kept his dream alive. His five hundred mile walk to Hampton was arduous; determination was his constant companion. Nothing killed that dream:

"When he reached Hampton at last,
the sight of the large brick building
filled his insides with light.
With fifty cents in his pocket
and a dream in his soul,
Booker felt the magic welcome him in."

As he was inspired, so he inspires anyone who reads his extraordinary story.

Bryan Collier pays quiet homage to this incredible man. His brilliant collages are filled with perspectives that change constantly to let us feel the emotions that Booker is feeling. The many fine details hold our attention and inspire deep discussion. Every image is purposeful and adds depth to the telling.

Following the text Jabari Asim includes additional information about Mr. Washington, a timeline, a lengthy author's note, a valuable illustrator's note and a bibliography. Bravo! 

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