An author and inspirational speaker offers a picture-book biography of her father that explores segregation and access to education.
Set during the 1930s in a segregated Mississippi, Burgess’ (Flawless Leadership, 2016, etc.) work chronicles how, as a boy, Earnest McEwen Jr. loved to read anything he could get his hands on. His black parents both worked in the cotton fields, and Ernie dreamed of a better life for his family. He wanted to go to college. Ernie finished high school, where he met his future wife, Millie. After getting a job as a janitor at the University of Mississippi, he met two professors who introduced him to William Faulkner. The author changed Ernie’s life by paying his tuition to Alcorn, a university for black students. “Pass it on”—the only repayment Faulkner requested—became Ernie’s motto, which he gave to his daughters, as explained in the author’s note at the end. The superb story is full of hope, showing people reaching across boundaries to help one another and provide a better life for the next generation. The details in Purnell’s (A Homerun for Bunny, 2013, etc.) beautifully realistic paintings and his attention to the faces of his subjects draw in readers. In this book, initially funded via Kickstarter, Burgess’ vocabulary is accessible. While she never talks down to readers, she presents the material in an approachable fashion.
This excellent and uplifting account of a grim American era promotes hope and kindness.