Picture Books on the History of Libraries, Part 3

I’m excited to share the penultimate installment of “Picture Books on the History of Libraries” (see the first and second posts, if you missed them) because these books cover a topic I hadn’t considered before. Each of them looks at the impact libraries have had on minorities — specifically African Americans and migrant workers. I don’t cry very often when I read, but I’ll admit that more than one of these picture books brought tears to my eyes. I hope you’ll check them out; it will definitely be worth your time to learn about this important subject.

[Update: I’ve linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy! Head over for her recent recommendations and links to other blogs.]

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low Books, 1997)

This picture book tells the story of author Richard Wright’s (1908-1960) longing to read books and how a white co-worker helps him gain access to the library. It describes hardships and shows how books help us empathize with others. Since it covers a broad span of time rather than a childhood event, and the themes are more complex than some of the picture books below, I recommend it for older children. The illustrations are acrylic paintings. An author’s note provides biographical information about Richard Wright. Recommended for ages 8 to 10.

Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Albert Whitman Company, 2009)

Louis wants a book to help him write an essay on Lincoln’s childhood, but he’s not allowed in the public library because he’s black. When a librarian does let him borrow a book after hours, Louis learns that “President Lincoln did what he thought was right, even when it shook people up.” I loved the realistic paintings and portrayal of Louis’ supportive family, but the story left me wondering how he would gain access to the library in future. A two-page historical note explains that this story is inspired by John Lewis, a civil rights leader and U.S. congressman from Georgia, and also defines segregation, especially in regards to libraries. A shorter note gives biographical info on Lincoln. Also included is a list of eight books for further reading. Recommended for ages 6 to 9.

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, illustrated by Don Tate (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2009)

Here is the story of a pivotal moment in the life of Ron McNair, an astronaut who lost his life in the Challenger explosion of 1986. Back in 1959 as a child in Lake City, South Carolina, Ron stood his ground in the public library until the librarian gave him a library card, even though the policy was that only white people could check out books. This picture book has vibrant, cartoonish illustrations and mid-length text. A one-page author’s note provides info about Ron McNair’s life. Recommended for ages 6 to 8.

Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Atheneum Books for young Readers, 2001)

‘Tricia Ann is going to “Someplace Special” by herself for the first time. On the way she encounters racism and segregation in different Jim Crow laws (on the bus, in a hotel, in a movie theatre, and even on a park bench). On the last page her destination is revealed: the public library. This is a long, tear-jerking story with lovely, realistic pictures. The author’s note explains that it is a fictionalized account of her childhood in Nashville in the 1950s, when the library became the first integrated public space. Recommended for ages 7 to 10.

The Hard-Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers, illustrated by John Holyfield (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)

Emma’s family are migrant workers who don’t have money for “extras.” When her mom tells her she’s going to start school, she wonders how she’ll ever earn enough money to buy a book if she’s no longer working in the orchards… but it turns out the school has a library! When Emma breaks the rules by taking a book home, how will she get out of her scrape? The long text is evocative and the illustrations are lush paintings. No appendices. Recommended for ages 7 to 10.

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colon (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

Tomas and his family travel from Texas to Iowa to pick fruit and vegetables. Tomas loves to hear his grandfather tell him stories in Spanish, but one day he visits the public library and brings books home so he can share new stories with his family. This is the true story of how a kind librarian inspired Tomas Rivera (1935-1984), who became a writer and national education leader. A feel-good story with gentle illustrations. Includes a one-paragraph author’s note. Recommended for ages 6 to 9.

I hope you’re able to find these books in your local library. If you read any of them, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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