Booker T. Washington is not an unsung hero; there are many books on his life, legacy, and dreams. However, after reading author Jabari Asim’s new book, Fifty Cents and A dream: Young Booker T. Washington, it is easy to see that there are still many things to learn.
Suitable for children from pre-k through the middle grades–and adults of any age–Fifty Cents and a Dream offers readers a fresh angle on Washington’s life from a picture book perspective.
Using illustrator Bryan Collier’s deep, earth-rich colors and expressive, oversized sketches, Asim offers a unique portrait of a young, hope-filled Washington as a slave who “longed to play, run, jump–and more than anything else–to read.”
Early pages show Washington gazing longingly at the school books he carries as he walks his master’s daughter to school. Another page shows Washington peeking in the classroom window and imagining himself learning to read like the white students.
Later pages depict life after freedom comes, when Washington works at a salt furnace, drills thousands of feet underground for coal and performs other backbreaking labor that really should be reserved for older men. Readers also witness, in the form of illustrations, Washington facing hunger and living on the dark, cold, cobble-stoned streets as he walks—yes, walks!–nearly five hundred miles to get to a unique boarding school for Negroes.
This is such a lovely book. The subject matter is often somber and heartbreaking, yet each illustration somehow manages to shine like a celebration of life. The text is factual and precise, yet Asim’s prose still exudes enough warmth to make readers root for Washington’s ultimate success.
Asim’s attention to detail spills over nicely into the indices, with an author’s note at the end of the book that details both his early memories of Washington, and the subtle way in which Washington’s legacy went from favorable to negative. There is also a generous illustrator’s note explaining the inspiration for the sketches, and a bibliography for teachers and researchers.
This book should fare well in any history, social studies, reading or art classroom, and would, of course, make an outstanding addition to any historian’s personal library.
Best wishes and happy reading,