Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dear Mr. Rosenwald

Today I read, then purchased Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carol Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Gregory Christie




I figure I can tell you about it since it is NOT one of the finalists for a CYBILS award. Have I mentioned that I'm one of the judges for the first-ever CYBILS poetry award? I have? Well, that should give you some idea how excited I am about the whole thing. But I digress.

Dear Mr. Rosenwald is a rare sort of poetry picture book, because it is essentially a story told in free verse. Each two-page spread holds a picture and a poem. And the book, while a work of fiction, is based in deeply-rooted truth. The truth of the life and experience of African Americans in the south in a post-Civil War era, when they were still kept impoverished through share-cropping. The truth of black schools being in shacks and sheds, without rudimentary supplies.

And it is based in the highest-reaching sort of truth. The truth of Booker T. Washington and his work in education, and of the remarkable Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., who heard what Mr. Washington had to say and put his money up to help others find their way to a better life. He was partially responsible for the building of more than 5,000 schools for blacks. I say "partially" because he insisted that the community fund half of the project, including money from both blacks and whites.

It is beautiful and moving and true (in the best possible way). I hope you'll all get to read it. And for those of you working in the public schools, see if you can get your hands on this one for Black History Month. Because although Julius Rosenwald wasn't black, the story in this book isn't really about him -- it's about a group of poor sharecroppers (and some former slaves) who came together to make a better life for their kids.

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