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Black Lives Matter Book of the Week

Posted on: February 18, 2021

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

The Oldest Student

by Rita L. Hubbard; illustrated by Oge Mora

This picture book biography tells the inspiring story of Mary Walker, who learned to read at the age of 116. Born enslaved in 1848, Walker was emancipated as a teenager, and was gifted a Bible that she longed to read. As the story of her life unfolds, we see her hard work and determination carry her through a century of history. At the age of 114, having outlived her family, Mary Walker applied the same determination and hard work to learning to read. "For the next year and more, Mary put everything she had into learning to read....She studied the alphabet until her eyes watered. She memorized the sounds each letter made and practiced writing her name so many times that her fingers cramped." News of Mary Walker's accomplishment spread, and she was proclaimed the nation's oldest student. She lived to be 121 years old! The collage illustrations by Caldecott-honoree Oge Mora add vibrant layers to the story. In early scenes of Mary Walker's life, signs and written pages appear as scribbles, becoming letters and words in the artwork after she learns to read. As the Kirkus starred review notes "Mary Walker was a living connection to a history people wanted to forget, and her indomitable spirit comes across beautifully in this book."

Of Note: Local organization Embrace Race is hosting a conversation with children's book illustrator/authors Oge Mora, Grace Lin, and Yuyi Morales called "Drawing Across the Colorline with Kids" on February 23rd. Learn more and register.

See the Jones Library Antiracism Book List for recommended titles for all ages

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