Most of all, he longed to learn.
of making friends with words,
setting free the secrets
that lived in books.
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856, and he went on to become a highly respected educator, author, and leader after a lifetime of hard work and perseverance. A new picture book by Jabari Asim tells the story of Washington’s quest from a young age to acquire an education. Complemented by realistic, beautiful watercolor and collage illustrations by Bryan Collier, Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington is both touching and informational.
Washington was still a child when emancipation came, and the book tells of his life after his mother moved the family from Virginia to West Virginia to join her husband. Washington and his brother worked with their stepfather in hard labor at a salt furnace and later at a coal mine. Even as he toiled, he remembered his earlier desires for an education– to learn to read like he watched his previous master’s daughter learn at school.
That desire to learn to read and an intrinsic curiosity and drive helped Washington work toward his goal. When he had the opportunity to attend school, he took it, but he always wanted even more. He journeyed hundreds of miles on foot in a quest to attend Hampton Institute, and still had many challenges upon his arrival, but Washington was never one to give up easily. He found a way to work his way through school, and his education paid off– not just for him, but for countless people who were taught and inspired by him and his story.
This incredible story is only made better with Bryan Collier’s watercolor and collage illustrations that incorporate meaning in the details, such as a map pattern on Washington’s shirt as he begins his five hundred mile journey. The end pages are remarkable, featuring images from The American Spelling Book, the type of texts used at the time when a young Washington longed to receive a formal education.
The text of Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington is almost lyrical, emotional storytelling in concise but powerful passages. Turn to the last pages for a timeline of Washington’s life with more specific tidbits of information, as well as notes from author Jabari Asim about evaluations and opinions of Washington throughout history. Asim states that in this book, he didn’t want to focus on Washington’s politics or approaches toward advancement for African-Americans, which have been criticized by other leaders. Instead, he wanted to convey the admirable qualities of hard work, perseverance, and self-reliance that Washington embodied. I think he accomplished this goal well, and I appreciate a picture book format to help educate my children about an important figure in American history.
Dawn loves sharing books with her children, for both entertainment and education. She blogs at my thoughts exactly.