A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Jean Merrill (The Pushcart War, The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars) and Harry Allard (Miss Nelson is Missing! ).
- Itâ€™s the birthdate of Lewis Carroll (1832â€“1898) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756â€“1791).
- In 1825 the U.S. Congress approves Indian Territory (in what is present-day Oklahoma), clearing the way for forced relocation of the Eastern Indians on the Trail of Tears. Read Only the Names Remain: The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears by Alex W. Bealer, illustrated by Kristina Rodanas.
- Happy birthday to The National Geographic Society, founded in Washington, D.C., in 1888.
On January 27, 1939, Julius Lester was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. Son of a Methodist minister, he lived in Kansas City and Nashville, where he attended Fisk University. Later Lester embraced the Jewish religion, which he wrote about in Lovesong: Becoming a Jew. One of those rare multi-talented individuals who can do many things well, Lester worked as a musician, an editor, a photographer, a college professor, and a radio and television host, as well as a writer. In the 1960s he wrote books for adults including Look Out, Whitey! Black Powerâ€™s Gonâ€™ Get Your Mama! Then his adult editor suggested that he try his hand at childrenâ€™s books.
Like Jerry Pinkney, Walter Dean Myers, and John Steptoe, Lester became one of the first group of extraordinarily talented Black writers and illustrators to integrate the all-white world of childrenâ€™s books. His first book, To Be a Slave, published in 1968, contains first-person narratives of former slaves, originally collected by the Federal Writersâ€™ Project. This Newbery Honor Book remains one of the most powerful indictments against slavery published for children. He then turned to the short-story format to provide a perspective on history in Long Journey Home: Stories from Black History.
Certainly one of the most felicitous pairings in childrenâ€™s books has been Julius Lester and artist Jerry Pinkney. The two became collaborators, friends, and over the years have inspired each other to do their best work. Their first rendition of the Uncle Remus tales began in 1987 with The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. Lesterâ€™s lively text and Pinkneyâ€™s spirited artwork bring the stories alive for a modern audienceâ€”and remove any material that would seem offensive today. Lester did much the same for his retelling of Little Black Sambo. In Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo he retains the charm of the story that always enchanted young readers but removes the racial sting that became associated with the tale.
It was a book that he initially did not want to write that stands as one of his greatest contributions to childrenâ€™s literature. John Henry had been Jerry Pinkneyâ€™s hero all his life, and he wanted to create a book about him.Â When Jerry suggested that Martin Luther King might be viewed as a modern-day John Henry, Lester saw how he could approach the text. The resulting book, John Henry, stands as one of the finest picture books of the 1990sâ€”beautifully worded and structured, a seamless combination of art and text.
Articulate, passionate, dedicated to preserving African-American folklore, often acting as a spokesperson for the African-American community, Julius Lester has served as the conscience of the childrenâ€™s book community for over four decades. Happy 72nd birthday Julius. May you have many, many more.
Here’s a page from Sam and the Tigers:
Originally posted January 27, 2011. Updated for .