Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story

Sleeping Bear. Jan. 2020. 32p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534110014.
Gr 2-5–This picture book biography focuses on Frederick Douglass’s childhood quest to learn to read and write. Narrated from his point of view, the text follows Douglass from one master to the next while he realizes that literacy would be the key to his freedom. Douglass employs a creative method to learn reading and writing skills from other children, paying them in surplus food—the inspiration for the book’s title. The watercolor-style illustrations in an earth tone palette serve as a lovely backdrop for the narrative. Many pages feature a red-wing blackbird observing the scene, possibly symbolizing Douglass’s eventual flight from slavery. His persistence in learning to read and write and the clever means through which he attained these skills are inspiring. However, readers may be frustrated that the book ends somewhat abruptly without explaining how that knowledge helped him escape slavery or become an abolitionist. These questions are partially answered in the back matter, but young readers may still need additional resources. Nevertheless, Keller shows the complexity of slavery and the driving need for freedom.
VERDICT This story will make a valuable addition to biography collections and resources for studies in Black history.

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