Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel, 2013)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

The prostitute with the heart of gold is a popular trope in fiction--although not one that we see often in YA novels, particularly with their focus these days on the supernatural and the dystopian.  Ruta Sepetys, who won so many honors with her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, (no connection with the even bigger best-seller, Fifty Shades of Gray!) transports us to 1950 and the seedy world of New Orleans' brothels and gangsters in her new just-released novel, Out of the Easy.

The book, narrated by the protagonist, 17-year old Josie, begins:  "My mother's a prostitute.  Not the filthy, streetwalking kind...But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute."  Her mother works for Willie, based on an actual New Orleans madam of the time, and her on and off boyfriend is a nefarious gangster, Cincinnati.  Josie hates Cincinnati and has a difficult relationship with her mother as well.  Willie, the generous madam with the proverbial heart of gold but a tough exterior, takes on the role of mother-figure for Josie, while her own mother seems to have little patience for raising her.  Josie's made good grades in school, and lives above a bookshop where she works part-time.  She also works part-time cleaning the brothel.  She's hoping to go away, leaving the Big Easy.  Her heart is set on college--not in New Orleans, where everyone knows who she is--and who her mother is--but at Smith College, where she hopes to make a fresh start.

Josie's carefully made plans and all her savings might come to nothing when she becomes mixed up in the police investigation of a a murder of a handsome tourist--one who happened to come into the bookstore shortly before his death and who afterwards had drinks with her mother.  As Josie becomes entangled in a web of lies, will she be able to escape her fate in New Orleans?  Will she become just like her own mother in the end?

I found this new work by Sepetys to be engaging from the get-go; Josie is a strong, smart, character with lots of "moxie."  Many of the more minor characters, especially her friend who is a closeted homosexual, are also appealing.  Sepetys portrays the 1950's as a world of secrets, where everyone is part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, wearing a mask that disguises who they really are.  One aspect of the novel which did bother me is that the world of the prostitutes at the whorehouse seemed to be somewhat prettified; although Josie's mother is an extremely unlikeable character, the other girls at the house who play more minor roles seem to be more stereotyped.  The gangsters, also, seem like stock characters.  However, I enjoyed the fact that the story is not predictable, a fault I often find with teen novels.

This novel, despite its setting in the underworld of New Orleans, does not have gratuitous sex or violence, and could be read by middle school students as well as high school.  While Out of the Easy did not engage me emotionally in the same way that Sepetys' earlier novel, Between Shades of Gray, did, it is a skillfully crafted novel that is well worth reading for its compelling main character and its well realized setting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Black History Month Book Review: A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet, by Kathryn Lasky (Candlewick, 2012)

Recommended for ages 7-12.

Candlewick has recently reissued in beautiful full-color paperback editions several biographies of famous African-American women by Kathryn Lasky.  Earlier this month I reviewed Vision of Beauty:  The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker.  In A Voice of Her Own, Lasky shares the story of an equally extraordinary woman, Phillis Wheatley, known as the first black woman poet in America.

Lasky begins her book as a young girl is kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery in America in 1761.  Through the girl's eyes, Lasky describes the harrowing journey from the west coast of Africa.  A powerful illustration, painted in acrylics, shows a terrified young girl huddled in the hold of the ship.  Upon arrival, she is purchased at a Boston slave market by the Wheatley family and given the name Phillis.  When we next meet Phillis, we learn that she has become no ordinary slave.  Mrs. Wheatley, realizing quickly how bright her new young slave was, decided to teach her to read and write, a sort of social experiment to see if an African could learn and understand the Bible.  While this sort of instruction was not illegal as it was in the South, it was nevertheless never done.

Phillis proved to be such an able student that she progressed beyond English to Latin and Greek, geography and mathematics--this at a time when few white women were offered this sort of education, and only the elite among white men.  Phillis was especially attracted to poetry, and had her first poem published when she was only fourteen years old.  Phillis became a celebrity in Boston, and was trotted out by her mistress to all the finest houses in town as a sort of curiosity.

Phillis Wheatley. Poems on Various Subjects. London, 1783

Ironically, Boston printers refused to publish a compilation of Wheatley's poems, refusing to believe that a Negro slave could have written them, even after a panel of distinguished Bostonians, including John Hancock, interviewed her and vouched for her.  Instead, the Wheatleys sent Phillis on a trip over the ocean to London, where she met a British publisher willing to publish her volume, and was received in the finest homes.  Returning to America when she learned her mistress was ill, she continued to write, even as Boston rebelled against the British.  After being published in London, her book sold well in Boston, and Phillis' fame grew.  She was even invited to meet General Washington after writing a poem in his honor.

In an epilogue, Lasky relates briefly the last years of Wheatley's life; after receiving papers freeing her from slavery from the Wheatleys, she married and had three children, all of whom died in infancy.  Her final poem, "Liberty and Peace," celebrated the end of the war, and she died in poverty at the age of thirty-one.

Back matter includes an index and a list of selected sources, as well as notes from the author and illustrator.  The text includes a few brief quotations from Wheatley's poems.

At a brief 38 pages, with beautiful and abundant color illustrations, this very accessible biography is one step up from a picture book, and could be read aloud in class or by parents as well as read independently by students in about third grade and up.  While the author provides plenty of information for a biographical report, the subject matter is fascinating and suitable for general reading as well as school assignments.  Phillis Wheatley's remarkable rise from an illiterate slave to a literary figure celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic is an inspiration to share with children, particularly during Black History Month or Women's History Month.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story, by Deborah Hopkinson (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2013)

I am delighted to welcome award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson to my blog today, to discuss her newest historical fiction picture book, Knit Your Bit:  A World War I Story.

     Q:  How were you inspired to write a story about this little piece of history--the Knit Your Bit campaign for soldiers during WWI?

A:  I am fascinated by stories of ordinary people in history, and also intrigued by historical photographs.  Years ago I worked at the American Red Cross in Honolulu and learned about the home front efforts to knit for soldiers. That drew me to learn more about the social history of knitting in America and the result is Knit Your Bit!

        Q:  Are you a knitter yourself? Or perhaps a family member? If so, did that play a role in your inspiration for this story?

A:  I actually do love to knit and I love yarn stores.  But there is a big caveat to this – I am, quite honestly, not very good.  I knit for relaxation only and I’m a bit like Mikey  in the book – I keep dropping stitches!  So I am content to knit scarves for myself – or for friends who can’t knit at all and so are a bit more forgiving of mistakes.  I have a number of friends who are wonderfully accomplished knitters and the book is dedicated to them.

Q:   Knit Your Bit tells the story of those at the home front during war. Do you hope that this book will be read by those children with moms and dads in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere? Will you be doing any special outreach to military families?

A:  One of the wonderful things about the “Knit Your Bit” tradition is that it continues today.  The book is already featured on a blog called “Deployment Diatribes,”

For more information about current Knit Your Bit projects check out:

Q:  Please tell us a little bit about your research process for this book.

A:  I consulted a couple of books that detail the history of knitting; No Idle Hands, The Social History of American Knitting by Anne Macdonald (Ballantine Books 1988) was especially helpful.  You can also read the actual New York Times report on the Central Park Knitting Bee (“Many Enter Knitting Bee”) at

And there is a great article on at:

Q:   I loved the illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia, which gave the story a real period feel. In fact, the illustrations reminded me of the TinTin comics. Can you comment about how the illustrations contribute to your text?

A:  I absolutely agree!  I love how Steven’s artwork complements the wonderful graphic style of the period.  The Red Cross posters of the time were part of what drew me to the story, so when you add the historical photos on the endpapers along with the art and the poster in the note, it all seems to come together to give young readers both a sense that this did happen in a different time, but that some things remain the same.

Q:  Please give us a brief preview of your upcoming book, The Great Trouble. And can you share with us some of the projects you have coming up?

A:  The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, is middle grade historical fiction about the 1854 cholera epidemic in London.  I tried to give the story a Dickensian feel, while at the same time celebrate the pioneering public health work of Dr. John Snow, who was born 200 years ago, in 1813.  I think kids will enjoy it.  I am also working on projects about Beatrix Potter and World War II. 

To find out more about my books I hope readers will visit me on the web at: or look at my Pinterest boards at:

Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing at The Fourth Musketeer.  For other stops on her Knit Your Bit Blog Tour please check

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel (Balzer + Bray, 2013)

Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Get a jump on Women's History Month with this new picture book about Clara Lemlich, a remarkable 20th century labor leader.  Its author, Michelle Markel, will be contributing a post to 2013's Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month, so don't forget to sign up to follow the blog so you don't miss any of the fascinating posts!

Picture books about early 20th century Jewish women labor leaders are not exactly published every day in the picture book universe, so I was especially eager to read this new work, illustrated by award-winning illustrator Melissa Sweet, about Clara Lemlich, best known for organizing the shirtwaist makers' strike of 1909.

We first meet Clara as she is arriving in the United States, part of the mass of immigrants.  But Clara is different--she's "got grit, and she's going to prove it.  Look out, New York!"

Social justice is an overriding theme of this book, and we see through Clara's eyes the injustices of life in early 20th century America for the impoverished immigrants.  "This was not the America she'd imagined."  Girls are hired to make blouses for a few dollars a month, wages desperately needed to help support their families.  Markel vividly describes the factories in just a few words--only two toilets, one sink, and three towels for 300 girls to share, and better not be a few minutes late or bleed on a piece of cloth if you've pricked your finger or you'll lose half a day's pay or even be fired.

But little Clara Lemlich is not one to sit back and take it.  She organizes strikes, and despite being arrested repeatedly, and beaten, she is not easily silenced.  But she realizes that a general strike of all the garment workers is what's needed to make the bosses stand up and take notice, and at a union meeting, she calls for women to launch the largest walk-out ever.

Clara is the leader of the Revolt of the Girls, as the newspapers call it.  And eventually the owners meet some of their demands, including a shortened work week and better wages.  Markel ends her elegie to Lemlich on a hopeful note, emphasizing how Clara's actions helped thousands of workers.  "proving that in America, wrongs can be righted, warriors can wear skirts and blouses, and the bravest hearts may beat in girls only five feet tall."

An afterword provides further details about the history of the garment industry, and the role of Jewish immigrants in the business.  Strangely enough, Clara is never identified as Jewish in the main text of the book, although she is shown shouting in Yiddish for a general strike.  Back matter also includes a selected bibliography of general and primary sources.  I would have also liked to have seen something on Clara Lemlich's later life.  For example, she continued advocating for the oppressed her entire life, even helping to organize nursing home orderlies in the retirement home where she spent the end of her life.
Clara Lemlich

Melissa Sweet's remarkable illustrations integrate the garment industry in a very literal fashion into her depiction of Clara's life.  She uses watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, and pieces of fabric and sewing machine stitching are front and center in nearly every illustration.  Some of the illustrations are particularly moving, including the one in which rows and rows of factory workers are shown from directly above, with the hundreds of girls appearing faceless and indistinct from each other like cogs in a wheel.  I also loved the "girl power" illustration of Clara calling for a general strike--Sweet depicts Clara from behind, with hundreds of people in the audience raising their fists in solidarity and with her call for a strike in an oversized text balloon, with the word "Strayk!" (or strike!) in bright red lettering!

This is a must-have for anyone interested in exposing their children to important issues and people in the social justice movement, as well as outstanding women in history, those who chose to try to make a difference in an era when women were encouraged to make their dominion at home.  To learn more about Clara Lemlich, consult Markel's bibliography or check out the entry in the Jewish Women's archive on-line.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review: Greenhorn, by Anna Olswanger (New South Books, 2012)

Recommended for ages 12 - adult.

There is no shortage of stories about the Holocaust for young people, whether fiction or nonfiction.  Greenhorn, by author and children's book editor Anna Oswanger, strikes a different chord than most of these works by focusing on the aftermath of the war, through the story of one of its young survivors.

Although published as a free-standing book, Greenhorn, at 43 pages, is really more of an illustrated short story.  Set in an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1946, the story tells of the arrival at the yeshiva of twenty orphaned Polish boys, including young Daniel, who won't let go of a little tin box he carries with him everywhere.  Daniel rarely speaks, but Aaron, whose father is a rabbi, considers him his friend.  Aaron stutters and is made fun of by the other boys, and feels some connection with the nearly silent refugee when the yeshiva boys start teasing Daniel about his box that he carries with him and even sleeps with.  What's in the box, everyone wonders?  The horrifying reality of what Daniel is carrying around contrasts with the innocence of the children at the yeshiva, who are concerned with baseball, basketball, candy, and other normal kid pursuits.  We learn that inside the box is a greasy piece of soap, made with fat from the bodies of Jewish prisoners.  Daniel clutches to it believing it could contain a piece of his mother, of whom he has not even a photograph.

An afterword explains that this story is based on a real incident in the life of Rabbi Rafael Grossman.  A glossary provides explanations of Yiddish names, words and phrases used in the text.

Although this looks by the cover, the slight size of the story, and the abundant illustrations like a book for young children, I would not recommend this book for children younger than twelve.  Also, some background knowledge of the Holocaust is useful for understanding the implications of the story.   The story would make a good addition to a unit on the Holocaust, and could easily be read aloud in a classroom or read by individual students and used for classroom or home discussion.  The Holocaust is such a vast tragedy that sometimes it is difficult to imagine the scope; this small book brings one element of a survivor's story vividly to life for young people.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sydney Taylor Blog Tour: Interview with Deborah Heiligman, author of Intentions

I am so pleased to welcome to The Fourth Musketeer author Deborah Heiligman, the winner of this year's Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers for her riveting teen novel, Intentions.  She has kindly responded to my interview questions below.

Q:  Intentions tells the story of 15-year old Rachel, who in the beginning of the novel overhears her beloved rabbi committing adultery right in the sanctuary.  The novel develops into a powerful and poignant story of betrayal and disappointment, and a coming-of-age story of learning to accept responsibility for our actions.  It's your first YA novel.  What inspired you to come up with this particular story?  

A:  I wanted to capture that moment in a teen's life when she realizes that someone she adores and even idolizes is flawed. That happened to me in a pretty spectacular way in my community growing up (though not quite as spectacularly as in the book!) and it was a truly painful time. That moment informs who you become I think--because how you deal with it can shape the rest of your life. My editor Michelle described it as the moment when the black and white of childhood becomes the gray of adulthood. Even when we are adults we are walloped when someone we admire or love does something bad... to wit, I started writing this book during the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle. I liked Clinton a lot and I was upset by what he had done, and even more than that, I was sad that my young sons were confused and were asking so many questions. Yet because of that I knew I was on to something universal.   Also around that time a rabbi in New Jersey was tried and convicted of having his wife killed.  So it all came together in that way. It did, however, take me almost two decades to finish it in a way that I was satisfied with it and ready to throw it into the wide world.

Q:  Rachel has such an authentic-sounding teenage voice.  Does she have anything in common with your teen self?  How do you channel this teen voice in your writing?

Deborah Heiligman
A:  I think people who know me personally see some of me in Rachel, but she came to me pretty much fully formed as a character. There were certain things about her that felt too much like me, and so those I changed. In the end she became someone who I hope I would have been friends with at that age--but nice friends with! In terms channeling the teen voice, I find it very easy to access my teenage self, the emotions and desires, the gusts and squalls of those years. Perhaps I have not actually grown up....?! 

Q:  Rachel's personal disappointment with the rabbi changes her whole relationship with Judaism in this novel.  Can you tell us a little about your Jewish background and the role Judaism plays in your life?

A:  I grew up as what I affectionately call an Orthodox Reform Jew. My father was actually an immigrant from a shtetl in Lithuania, and grew up dirt-poor and Orthodox in Lehighton, PA. (They had to include Jews from the next town to have a minyan. I don't know how they kept kosher except that they had their own chickens.) He married my mom late in life (her second marriage) and she was kind of High Reform, though her first husband had been Conservative. SO. The agreement was that they would belong to the Reform synagogue, go every week,  and always have a really nice Friday night dinner. So that's how I grew up. I loved my temple and I had lots of friends of all kinds, but my heart friends were mostly Jewish. As a teenager I got involved in Jewish youth groups and in college I went to Hillel (mostly to do a lot of cooking for a lot of people--challah for a hundred!, which was fun). In college I decided to concentrate (major) in religious studies. That gave my parents, especially my mother, conniption fits. She said to me on the phone when I told her: "There are two things you are not allowed to do: be a rabbi, or marry a rabbi." Wise woman, she. So of course for a whole week I was going to be a rabbi. Instead I became a writer! (My best friend became a rabbi and she and her rabbi husband read the manuscript for me a couple of times.) Back to real life: My husband agreed to bring up our kids Jewish (he is Jewish, but not religious) and so we did. We belonged to a great synagogue in New Hope, PA, that is Reconstructionist and both my sons became bar mitzvahs there. Since we moved back to NYC we don't belong to a synagogue. I miss it sometimes, but mostly I feel very happy and at home here, and we have holidays here and with my family back in Pennsylvania where I grew up. 

Q:  As an author, you have produced an extremely diverse group of books, ranging from fun rhyming picture books for preschoolers such as Fun Dog, Sun Dog, to the award-winning biography Charles and Emma and an upcoming picture book biography of mathematician Paul Erdos.  What are some of your favorite parts of writing fiction as opposed to nonfiction?

A:  You know in fiction you get to MAKE STUFF UP. I love that. But I also really love writing nonfiction. I must tell you that I always make stuff up, and usually tell my husband about it. He is a dyed-in-the-wool nonfiction writer so he doesn't quite get why when we're on a dark country road, for example, I might worry aloud about alien abduction or people by the side of the road who need our help but turn out to be shapeshifters, that kind of thing. When Intentions was accepted for publication, he said something like, "Oh good now I can tell myself you're a novelist, not crazy." 

Q:  You have said repeatedly that your all-time favorite children's book is Charlotte's Web (a favorite of mine as well--it's the first book I can remember asking for and reading myself).  What are some of your favorite children's books with Jewish themes?  And can you tell us some of the books that are currently on your nightstand?

A:  Well at least I'm consistent. Wait, Charlotte wasn't Jewish?  OK--some of my favorite books with Jewish themes (there are so many great ones!): The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz (one of my all-time favorite adult books is The Way of Man by Martin Buber, which has that tale in it as well); The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen; The Diary of Anne Frank; Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb; Darkness over Denmark by Ellen Levine; Just Enough is Plenty by Barbara Diamond Goldin.  (I wrote all those by memory, by the way--I think that's how you know your favorite books, when they just come to you POP! It means you are holding them in your heart always.) 

Deborah, thanks so much for participating in the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour!  Please check out some of the other blog tour stops listed below.


Ann Redisch Stampler, author of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Shelf-Employed 

Carol Liddiment, illustrator of The Wooden Sword
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky’s Blog 

Doreen Rappaport, author of Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman


Linda Glaser, author of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At This Messy Life 

Adam Gustavson, illustrator of Hannah’s Way
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger ReadersCategory
At Here in HP 

Louise Borden, author of His Name was Raoul Wallenberg
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Randomly Reading 


Sheri Sinykin, author of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Read, Write, Repeat 

Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Zayde Comes to Live
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Writing & Illustrating


Linda Leopold Strauss, author of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Pen and Pros 

Alexi Natchev, illustrator of The Elijah Door
Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the Younger Readers Category
At Madelyn Rosenberg’s Virtual Living Room 


Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, by Kathryn Selbert (Charlesbridge, 2013)

Recommended for ages 7-12.  

Winston Churchill was known during his lifetime as the British Bulldog, due to his famous tenacity.  In addition to being a great statesman, writer, and orator, Churchill was an animal lover, but it was not bulldogs who lived alongside the famous man, but miniature poodles.

This new picture book by debut author/illustrator Kathryn Selbert tells the story of the British home front by highlighting Churchill's relationship with his poodle, Rufus.  The author opens with the following:

"Rufus's best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk."

It's 1940, and Winston is managing a nation at war.  Through the eyes of Rufus, Churchill's faithful brown miniature poodle, we see Churchill at work, visiting his secret underground bunker, the room from which he directs the war, going to the House of Commons, walking through streets filled with rubble from buildings destroyed by Nazi bombers.  Rufus is not always invited along however; when Winston meets with his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to plan D-Day, Rufus sits by the door, patiently guarding the bunker.  Rufus is once again by Churchill's side as the war ends, barking and howling with happiness.  In the end, Rufus and Winston retire to the country, resting..."two war dogs."  In the final lovely two-page spread dominated by the greens of the English countryside, Winston and Rufus gaze out to the horizon, with the country finally at peace.

Back matter includes a timeline of World War II, a look at Churchill and his affection for poodles (he owned two during his lifetime, both named Rufus), and a brief biography of Winston Churchill himself.    The author also includes books for young Churchill fans, Churchill and World War II-related websites, a bibliography, and quotation sources.

Acrylic and collage illustrations have an nostalgic yet realistic look, with plenty of sepia tones suggesting a time long ago.  Each two-page spread features a quotation by Churchill on a yellowed piece of paper, in an old-fashioned typewriter-style font, designed to look like it has been pinned to the rest of the picture. An interview on the Charlesbridge website indicates that this book grew out of an undergraduate school project, but that the book originally focused more on the relationship between dog and owner, and less on the historical details.  The book now provides more of an introduction to World War II, one that would be a good classroom read-aloud while studying that time period.  The book will, of course, capture the heart of dog lovers as well as history lover, with its illustrations that depict Rufus in all his poodle splendor.

Disclaimer:  I am a poodle owner and a poodle lover.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Churchill with the real Rufus 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker, by Kathryn Lasky (Candlewick, 2012)

Recommended for ages 7-12.

Candlewick Press has recently reissued in paperback Kathryn Lasky's biography of Sarah Breedlove Walker, originally published in 2000.  In a brief 48 pages, Lasky chronicles the life of this remarkable woman, born into poverty to former slaves, who became a highly successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.  Orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah had a difficult childhood, and married at the age of 14 to escape living with her sister and her cruel husband.  She eventually moved to St. Louis where she worked as a laundress and diligently saved to be able to give her daughter the education she never had.

Because of poor nutrition, Sarah's hair began to fall out, and she began to work on a formula that would produce healthy hair for African-American women.  After testing her products on herself, she began selling door-to-door, and eventually expanded her products into the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, a business empire which made her the wealthiest black woman in America.

In a brief, easy to read narrative, Lasky hits on the highlights of Walker's life, emphasizing how remarkable her success was in an era when she had two strikes against her--being female and being black.  My favorite scene in the book involves Waker attending a conference of African-American business leaders, all of whom (of course!) were men.  Lasky describes how Walker tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of Booker T. Washington, so that she could speak.  She finally sprang to her feet, relating how she came from the cotton fields of the South, promoting herself into the business of manufacturing hair goods.  "'My object in life is not simply to make money for myself, but to use part of what I make in trying to help others,' continued Madam Walker...With these words, Madam Walker proved herself more than equal to any man in that room."

Sarah Breedlove Walker
An epilogue describes Walker's commitment to philanthropy and to civil rights; her dying words were "I want to live to help my race."  Back matter also includes an illustrator's note an index, and selected sources.

Abundantly illustrated with beautiful full color watercolor paintings by Nneka Bennett, Lasky's book is an inspirational tale that could be read aloud or read independently by children in elementary school.