Thursday, February 19, 2009


Author: Kai Jackson Issa
Illustrator: Arthur L. Dawson
Publisher: Lee and Low (review copy provided by publisher)

I've spent my entire career in urban settings. Right now, I'm in a pretty rough neighborhood in north Denver. Many of our students have hard, hard, hard lives-  we have kids being raised by grandparents or foster parents, kids whose parents are working two and three jobs to support their families, and kids whose families are really struggling in our very difficult economy. Our students are regularly exposed to domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Last year, a shopping center in the neighborhood was burned down in a gang-related turf war.

In the midst of all of this craziness, stands S*** Elementary. The teachers at my school do an amazing job, not only teaching kids, but also loving them; they buy shoes and coats and school supplies, take kids to movies and sporting events, organize after school tutoring and clubs, pump up bike tires, give hugs and pats on the back and kicks in the butt. Every single day, in a million different ways, my colleagues say to kids, "Hey, there's a big wide world out there waiting for you. You are somebody wonderful and important." 

As a teacher at this school, I want to contribute to that message. And so I work hard at finding books that will send message of hope to our students. Recently, I became familiar with HOWARD THURMAN'S GREAT HOPE, a new picture book biography. Howard Thurman, in case you have never heard of him (I hadn't, prior to reading this book), was a minister who served as a spiritual advisor to people like Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, and Marion Wright Edelman. He traveled to India to meet Mahatma Gandhi long before ML King Jr. made that journey. He wrote twenty books. 

And yet Howard Thurman came from very humble beginnings. His father was a field laborer, who died when Howard was very young. His mother and grandmother took in laundry and cleaned houses. Every morning, before he attended school, Howard walked for an hour to deliver the clean laundry, then picked up the dirty laundry after school. He held a variety of other odd jobs throughout his childhood. 

Howard attended segregated schools in Florida. By the time he got to eighth grade, he was the only student in his class, and the principal taught him.  He received a scholarship to prestigious high school one hundred miles away from his town, but had a suitcase that was held together with tape and rope. When he arrived at the train station, the conductor said he couldn't take his handle-less suitcase on the train and would have to pay $3 to send it as baggage. Howard didn't have the money and sat on the curb and wept. A kind stranger paid the freight charge, so that Howard could put his suitcase onto the train, and travel out into that big world. He was the first person in his family to attend college.

I loved this book on many levels. First, I love being able to say to my kids, "Look, here's a person who had a really hard start, and look what he did." I also loved the kind stranger who paid the freight charge. I loved being able to say to kids, "Look, you never know what your kindness might do for someone else." I love providing my kids with one more example of an African American scholar. 

A great book for a unit on Civil Rights, or African American history, or biography, or determination…


Sherry Dale Rogers said...

I dont even know you and I am proud of you. Two thumbs up.

Susan T. said...

I have this one around here; thanks for the reminder to pick it up and read!

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