Monday, January 22, 2007

Dear Mr. Rosenwald

Weatherford, Carole Boston. DEAR MR. ROSENWALD, Ill. by R. Gregory Christie. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0439495229 [Suggested Grade Levels K-5]

Weatherford uses a series of poems to weave a story based on true events about how the President of Sears gave away millions of dollars to small, rural African American communities in the south to build their own schools in the 20's. The voice is that of a young child, and the cubist illustrations keep the story from veering into sentimentality. It begins: “1921: One-Room School/ My teacher, Miss Mays, said/ You can't judge a school/ by the building./ When the roof leaks/ she calls us vessels of learning.”

This lovely book accomplishes several things-- tells the story of a year in this young girl's life through her eyes, reveals details of life in African American communities in the 1920's south, and highlights the value of schools and learning. Her use of language is direct and descriptive and balances story-like narrative with stand alone poems. It's sincere, without being sentimental, and historical while still capturing glimpses of family love, of the physicality of work, of emotions like surprise or pride in a way that many children can relate to. Plus, the illustrations are so distinctive-- static and angular, with washes of unexpected colors, echoes of Jacob Lawrence.

Children may enjoy consulting more background information available on Weatherford's web site:

Another natural follow up activity is letter writing, since the book ends with a lovely “thank you” letter. Children may also enjoy researching the early history of their own school buildings or participating in fundraising efforts to support building schools in other struggling areas.

Other books about schools and hardship:
Howard, Elizabeth Fitzgerald. VIRGIE GOES TO SCHOOL. ISBN 978068980074
Stanley, Jerry. CHILDREN OF THE DUSTBOWL. ISBN 0517880946

By Sylvia M. Vardell

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