Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Benjamin C. Holmes is a slave, apprenticed to a tailor in Charleston, South Carolina, just before the Civil War. Ben, unlike most slaves, knows how to read. His father has taught him a few letters, and now he uses every chance he can to practice- he reads the street signs, he sounds out the words on wagons and stores, and he finds a newspaper in the street and folds it to make a hat, then takes it home to practice his reading. His mother, who he is allowed to see once a year, tells him she will give him a dollar if he can learn to write.

When the Civil War breaks out, Ben is sent to a slave prison. The prisoners pool their tobacco to bribe a guard and get a copy of the newspaper and young Ben reads the Emancipation Proclamation aloud to his fellow prisoners. Illustrations are by Floyd Cooper, another one of my favorites (he has over sixty books- two I love are BROWN HONEY AND BROOMWHEAT TEA and MIZ BERLIN WALKS). Pair this book with MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE or put it in your "Power of Literacy" or "Learning to Read" collection.

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