In the 1800s, an African-American boy dreamed of performing on stage and found success in Europe.
Ira Aldridge was a noted and popular Shakespearean actor in England and on the Continent, excelling in the Bard’s dramatic roles. Born to free black parents in New York City in 1807, he soon realized that America would not nurture his dreams, so he sailed for England. Success was not easy, but it did come. Aldridge, ever mindful of slavery at home, would talk to audiences after his performances and raise money for abolitionists. Armand presents the narrative in an easygoing style with imagined dialogue and scenes, focusing both on Aldridge’s childhood, when the beauty of Shakespeare’s words first enthralled him, and his later stage performances. Occasional quotes from Shakespeare add to the theatrical flavor. Cooper’s signature art style—oil wash with kneaded erasures—captures dramatic scenes from The Merchant of Venice and Othello, with shades of yellow effectively mimicking stage lighting. All in all, it’s a fine introduction for children to yet another distinguished name in the realm of African-American arts.
Shakespeare, racial discrimination, and strong doses of inspiration and determination—all in one notable life. (photograph, afterword, quotation sources, books, and websites) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)