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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Preaching to the Chickens: The story of young John Lewis, written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Penguin, 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"John was excited to be put in charge of the chickens. There were about sixty of them: Rhode Island Reds. Strong-winged bantams. Dominiques with gray stripes as dull as dishwater and legs as yellow as daisies. John loved to see them flutter and strut and flap their wings. Every day, John got up early and fed them dried corn just shelled from the cob ... "

John Lewis is a very serious man. He has good reason to be. Speaking eloquently and powerfully during the civil rights movement required it, if he was to be heard. He continues to speak for his people and as congressman for the 5th district of Georgia. If you are interested in knowing more about this important orator, you can check out a PBS program called John Lewis: Get In The Way. It is available for download on iTunes.

To know just a little bit about his childhood and his training for the life he leads now, you can turn to Jabari Asim's picture book biography. John grew up in a loving farm family where everyone had an important role to play. John was in charge of the chickens, and he loved them one and all. He knew each of them by name, and liked to practice his oratory skills as he went about caring for them. As he watched them bob their heads toward the feed he was distributing, he liked to think they were agreeing with what he had to say. He talked to them of peace and being righteous when they fought over food, or refused to share. He did so much of this talking that his siblings gave him a nickname: Preacher.

John was happy with that nickname. He loved going to church, and listened carefully to the preachers each week. He wanted to be like them, and honed his skills in the chicken yard.

"He knew that  someday he'd speak before thousands. He hoped that his words would stir people's souls and move them to action."

So good to read this happy back story of Mr. Lewis' life. E. B. Lewis uses watercolors to bring the young boy's family and home to life for readers. His light-infused images show a joyful boy filled with love and concern for others, especially for the chickens in his care. What he learned at church and in the chicken yard led to his being one of the most influential and inspiring leaders in the ongoing fight for civil rights and equality.

A brief author's note speaks of the admiration Mr. Asim has for John Lewis, and has always had. That shines through on every page of this fine story, and will hopefully inspire readers to look deeper into the work Mr. Lewis has accomplished throughout his long and venerable career.

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