Genre: Picture Book, Nonfiction, Black History
Recommend to Others?: Yes
ABOUT: Frederick Douglass knew where he was born but not when. He knew his grandmother but not his father. And as a young child, there were other questions, such as Why am I a slave? Answers to those questions might have eluded him but Douglass did know for certain that learning to read and to write would be the first step in his quest for freedom and his fight for equality. Told from first-person perspective, this picture-book biography draws from the real-life experiences of a young Frederick Douglass and his attempts to learn how to read and write. Author Shana Keller (Ticktock Banneker’s Clock) personalizes the text for young readers, using some of Douglass’s own words. The lyrical title comes from how Douglass “paid” other children to teach him.
My Review: Bread for Words is a wonderful story of how Frederick Douglass learned to read and write in the pursuit of his freedom. You get glimpses of his early years in the most simplistic and accessible yet impactful way. I loved how the author incorporated Douglass’ own words into the story in big bold letters – “But why am I a slave?” The changed format of the text added more realism and made the story that much more personable.
I loved reading the parts after Douglass, who’d been born a slave, decides to take his fate into his own hands: “From that moment on I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. If I learned to read, I could loosen the chains of bondage.” In the ensuing pages, you see how observant, intelligent, and diligent Douglass was as he literally traded bread for words. It also emphasized the fear of a learned slave: that knowledge is power and power provides agency and agency was the pathway to freedom.
“Mr. Auld was right. There would be no keeping me. My chains had been broken.” These final words are so beautiful and meaningful as Douglass goes on to become a great orator, speech writer and activist in the fight against slavery.
Having read and studied Douglass’ autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in school, I found Bread for Words to be an inspiring story and teaching tool for kids learning about Black and American history. I love the title of the book – it’s so perfect! – and the illustrations are superb.