Thursday, December 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Carter Reads the Newspaper

PB Review: Carter Reads the Newspaper

Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Don Tate (Peachtree Publishing, 36p., ages 6-10, 9781561459346, February 1, 2019)

Deborah Hopkinson and Don Tate's exemplary picture book about Carter G. Woodson, "the father of Black History," celebrates a lesser-known historic American. Woodson didn't "help people escape from slavery, start a bus strike, or lead a movement of millions"; instead, he "transformed the way people thought about history" and set the groundwork for Black History Month. Celebrated in February, Black History Month serves as a time "to honor heroes like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.," along with so many others.

Carter Woodson was born on a farm, 10 years after the Civil War ended, to parents who had been slaves. He went to school only part time because he was needed at home, but his father, who had escaped slavery to join the Union Army, "believed in being an informed citizen." Unable to read or write himself, he encouraged Carter to read the newspaper aloud, which gave the boy "his first glimpse of the wider world."

When Carter was 16, he joined his brother in the coal mines. There, he met Oliver Jones, who had a profound effect on him. During the Civil War, Jones "had fought for freedom and equality," and, years later, "[h]e was still willing to do his part to further the cause." Jones held post-work gatherings in his home, where Carter again read newspapers aloud. He also researched answers to questions his friends posed about what they had learned. It was "school of a different kind," and Carter was inspired by these men. "[His] interest in penetrating the past of [his] people was deepened." Carter went on to high school, college and eventually got his Ph.D. from Harvard, becoming "the first and only Black American whose parents had been slaves to receive a doctorate in history."

Throughout his life, Woodson understood that learning occurs in all kinds of places, in all kinds of ways, and he labored to make sure that history included "all people." When one of his professors said "that Black people had no history," it became Woodson's life work to prove him wrong--even though the stories of black Americans "weren't part of any history book," Woodson knew they still had a history. In 1926, Woodson chose "the second week of February" to be Negro History Week "to mark the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln." Later, February became Black History Month, which is now celebrated nationally. Carter Woodson learned the stories of his people, and he wanted to make sure that everyone in the United States learned them, too.

This inspiring picture book combines a rich but focused text with clear, expressive mixed-media illustrations. It sheds light on an important, inspiring, but little-known subject, and the supplemental back matter gives weight to the exceedingly important takeaways that history must include all people, and that anyone can change history. "And we can, too." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Without Carter G. Woodson's dedication to truth and inclusion, we might not have Black History Month as a time to honor key heroes in United States' history.

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