Books DiverseKidLit Into the Wild: Artists and Rebels Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[DiverseKidLit] Reading as A Great Act of Rebellion in Booker T. Washington’s Picturebook Biographies

Myra here.

Our theme for this month’s Diverse Children’s Books linkups is Favorite Children’s Books Featuring an LGBTQ Character(s). (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

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Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Children’s Books Featuring an LGBTQ Character(s). Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes …

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Most Clicked Post from Last Time

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Today marks the last day of our reading theme on artists and rebels in literature. As such, I thought it would be good to end with the greatest act of rebellion of all times: reading – and how this act has transformed the life of Booker T. Washington, inspiring him to build his own school with 50 cents and a dream.

img_7318With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built A School

Written by: Suzanne Slade Illustrated by: Nicole Tadgell
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
ISBN: 0807508977 (ISBN13: 9780807508978) 
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I had no idea who Booker T. Washington was until I read this picturebook biography. After the Civil War ended, the sense of freedom was short-lived for Booker as he worked long hours in a salt mine to help his family survive.


Yet the long hours and arduous, not to mention highly dangerous, work did not prevent Booker from learning his letters:

He felt magic in those words. Booker wanted to learn to read more than anything. But his dream seemed impossible.


Such was his determination and tenacity that Booker did not just learn how to read, he eventually went on to become a teacher, and to build a school using his bare hands, making his own bricks through clay that he dug from the ground. He did not allow lack of resources, poverty, the constant threat of racism and discrimination to deter him from realizing his dream. He dug deep and went on to work and built the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

Fifty Cents And A Dream: Young Booker T. img_7310Washington

Written by: Jabari Asim Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Publisher: Little Brown and Company, 2011
ISBN: 0316086576 (ISBN13: 9780316086578) 
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

In contrast to the first book that has a fairly straightforward prose narrative, this one has a lilting, lyrical quality to it – matched exquisitely with Collier’s trademark collage art.


I loved reading through the illustrator’s note where Collier mentioned the symbolic elements he included in the images to signify layered meanings in his visual narrative:

Throughout the text, you’ll find that Washington continues to listen and dream, which is symbolized by bubbles of light in the art. Also, take note of the map pattern on Washington’s shirt, foreshadowing the five-hundred-mile journey that he takes as a young man after hearing about a great school for Negroes where students studied farming, science, drafting, and other great subjects.


The Author’s Note was also particularly illuminating as Zabari Asim shared how Booker T. Washington was originally historically portrayed as “a misguided individual who preferred compromise where others wanted direct confrontation” which resulted in his being “mocked, vilified, and caricatured.”


Washington’s contributions to American society, however, have been recently re-evaluated, and his ethic of hard work and dogged persistence finally receiving the recognition it so rightfully deserves.

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5 comments on “[DiverseKidLit] Reading as A Great Act of Rebellion in Booker T. Washington’s Picturebook Biographies

  1. Great books! I attended Tuskegee University and would love to recommend this to others. Thanks for sharing!


  2. It is exciting to see historical perceptions being revisited and corrected!


  3. What a fantastic title – reading as a great act of rebellion. Such a great reminder never to take our rights and freedoms for granted – throughout history and around the world, something as simple as reading is an act of rebellion, and a means of challenging unjust authority. Sadly Booker T. Washington is poorly known where I live, but I hope that great picture books like this can introduce him to new generations of readers.


  4. Yes, I agree with Jane – it certainly makes you think, when reading itself is an act of rebellion… And I had never heard of Booker T. Washington… I wonder if these books will make it across the Atlantic?


  5. These look amazing! Thanks for sharing!


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