KNOCKIN’ ON WOOD

Little Clayton Bates loved to dance. “He had no shoes, so he danced barefoot. He had no music, so he made dance rhythms by clapping his hands and tapping his feet.” This down-home opening sets the stage for the remarkable career of Peg Leg Bates, a black vaudevillian who lost his leg in a cottonseed mill at the age of 12, but who went on to become one of the most accomplished dancers in show business. Line-and-watercolor illustrations depict a smiling Bates tapping his way from black-only audiences to the Ed Sullivan show, movies, and even a star turn for George VI, the text emphasizing how his love for dancing kept him going in the face of bigotry. It’s a very neat story, told briefly but effectively; the illustrations are full of movement and flair, though one might wish for more facial details to differentiate individuals. Where this offering truly fails, however, is in its utter lack of documentation; there’s not even an author’s note to fill in the gaps (though an excellent black-and-white photograph of Bates attests to his exuberance). A real pity. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58430-170-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

ELEANOR

"From the beginning the baby was a disappointment to her mother," Cooney (The Story of Christmas, 1995, etc.) begins in this biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. She is a plain child, timid and serious; it is clear that only a few people loved her. After her parents die, she is cared for in the luxurious homes of wealthy relatives, but does not find acceptance until she arrives in a British boarding school, where she thrives on the attention of the headmistress, who guides, teaches, and inspires her. Cooney does not gloss over the girl's misery and disappointments; she also shows the rare happy times and sows the seeds of Eleanor's future work. The illustrations of house interiors often depict Eleanor as an isolated, lonely figure, her indistinct face and hollow eyes watching from a distance the human interactions she does not yet enjoy. Paintings reveal the action of a steamship collision; the hectic activity of a park full of children and their governesses; a night full of stars portending the girl's luminous future. The image of plain Eleanor being fitted with her first beautiful dress is an indelible one. Readers will be moved by the unfairness of her early life and rejoice when she finds her place in the world. An author's note supplies other relevant information. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-670-86159-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.

An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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