Book Reviews

Book Review: The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, Illustrated by Oge Mora

Image via Goodreads

Genre: Picture Book, Children’s Nonfiction, Biography
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Imagine learning to read at the age of 116! Discover the true story of Mary Walker, the nation’s oldest student who did just that, in this picture book from a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and a rising star author.

In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read. From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge More comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn.


My Review: I really enjoyed learning about Mary Walker’s life (May 6, 1848 – December 1, 1969) and how she became known as the oldest student.

Walker’s humbling and admirable story from beginning to end is one of tenacity and persistence. Her story unfolds within beautiful, moving illustrations of deep colors and words/pictures within cut out parts of the illustrations.

Walker says, “When I’m free, I’ll go where I want and rest when I want. And I’ll learn to read, too.” But, like millions of former slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation, Mary had to work hard and endlessly to feed and support her family, so she never had time to learn to read until much much later in life.

I found Walker’s story to be inspiring and I think young readers will be inspired by as well. She is a strong woman who – at well over 100 years of age – FINALLY fulfilled her deepest desire and learned to read, saying, “You’re never too old to learn.” I also like that this book includes real photos of Mary from moments towards the end of her life. I highly recommend reading the author’s note as well. The Oldest Student is a must read and must have for personal and classroom libraries.

Mary Walker lived to be 121 years old!

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