The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers by author Lehman Riley is a clever little chapter book series that is making its rounds on the history bookshelves. This review is of Book #6 in the series: Dr. Daniel Williams and the First Successful Heart Surgery in 1893.
First, some background: Papa Lemon is the history-loving, checker-playing “neighborhood grandfather” (inspired by the author’s real grandfather) who, along with wife Mama Sarah, always has something important to teach anyone who wants to learn. The Little Wanderers are a group of five neighborhood friends who ride on Papa Lemon’s magic train to “go back [in time] and learn about lesser-known pieces of history.”
In this latest installment in the chapter book series, the Little Wanderers are witnesses when one of their favorite teachers suffers a heart attack in front of the entire class. School is dismissed early and the distraught children end up at Papa Lemon’s place and tearfully tell him what has transpired. Mama Sarah reassures them that medicine has come a long way and their teacher is in good hands. To reinforce this, Papa Lemon suggests that they hop aboard his magic train and go back in time to the year 1893 to meet Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African American physician who performs the first successful open-heart surgery.
The Little Wanderers not only meet Dr. Williams but they also get to ask what his childhood was like and what inspired him to go into medicine. They even get to watch him perform his first open heart surgery (someone left the operating room door open by mistake), thus becoming witnesses to his courage and brilliance.
The Adventures of Papa Lemon’s Little Wanderers is a chapter book series that has the potential to bring many past African American victories and successes to life for today’s emerging history lovers. It should be noted, however, that those readers who have not have had access to earlier books in the series may be a bit lost as to who the Little Wanderers are, how they got their title, and how the magic train works. For this reason, the author should make an effort to re-educate readers on these points in every new installment.
Other than this small quibble, the book should be great for children in early- and upper-elementary history or social studies classrooms, or as a welcome addition to your own personal history library.