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[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Oldest Reader

"The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read" by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora.

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

I have read about this picturebook which has been shared repeatedly by trusted fellow book bloggers for a few months now. I am so thrilled to discover that it is available via Singapore’s NLB Overdrive. It is the perfect book to share for our reading theme, clearly.


The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard Illustrated by Oge Mora
Published by Schwartz & Wade (2020)
ISBN: 1524768286 (ISBN13: 9781524768287)
Borrowed from Singapore NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Mary Walker was born to slavery. Working is like breathing to her. There was never any time for her to think about learning or reading or personal development: survival was more important and getting through one day after the next. Yet, despite this, she longed to be free like the birds.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, life barely improved. This is one of the key things to be learned through narratives such as these: a proclamation of freedom is not enough. There has to be reparation. However, that is an argument to be made for another time.

Mary Walker did her best with the paltry little that she was given and she worked it hard – until soon enough she had a family of her own. While Mary Walker always wanted to learn how to read, there never seemed to be enough time, until she became very old and ended up outliving her entire family. Then, she had plenty enough time in her hands. With none of her family members around to read to her, she thought it was the perfect time to learn.

Mary Walker is nothing but determined. She walked into a reading class being held in her building when she was 114 years old, and proceeded to work hard once again, this time as a reader, as a student. Mary Walker’s story is life-affirming and a testament to everything I hold dear: one can become a reader no matter what age, colour, religious denomination, gender identity, political affiliation, ethnicity/nationality. So yes, Mary Walker says go open that book now and read. This is a story that I predict will win multiple awards this year.

Educators and parents would be happy to note that there is also an Author’s Note at the end which indicated which portions of the narrative have been fictionalized or imagined, as well as a list of References at the beginning of the story for those who wish to know more about Mary Walker’s life.


#ReadIntl2020 Update: Both author and illustrator are people of color.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Oldest Reader

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] 10 Uplifting Black Narratives Depicting Joy, Love, and Community – Gathering Books

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