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THE POWER OF HER PEN by Lesa Cline-Ransome


The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

by Lesa Cline-Ransome ; illustrated by John Parra

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-48-146289-1
Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Cline-Ransome and Parra introduce journalist Ethel L. Payne, called “The First Lady of the Black Press,” to young readers.

Born in 1911 to a Pullman porter and a Latin teacher, as a girl, Ethel loved the stories her elders told, reading at the library on weekends, and English class with a teacher who encouraged her writing. During World War II, she became a community organizer in her hometown of Chicago, then began writing letters to newspapers about national politics and black issues. She got a job in Japan after the war, where she learned from black American soldiers about discrimination in the military, and a friend had her diary entries from the trip published. One of her articles made headlines, and she began working at the Chicago Defender. The newspaper sent her to Washington, where she became one of only three black journalists with a White House press pass and covered six presidents, asking them tough questions about race. The lengthy text, a paragraph or two on most pages, gives a thorough treatment of Payne and her effects on national politics and culture. While the copious details are relevant, their telling feels somewhat tedious, as the various events lack a strong narrative thread to hold them together. Parra’s painted, folk-style illustrations use texture and a mix of earthy colors to create distinct scenes that are stronger individually than collectively.

Patient children will see another way to make a difference.

(author’s note, bibliography, credits, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)