Children's Bookshelf: Frederick Douglass

Nov 27, 2017

This week on The Children's Bookshelf, Dr. Sue Ann Martin takes a look at "Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History," a beautifully illustrated text that tells the story of the former slave turned civil rights activist.

"Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History," written by the late Walter Dean Myers, a five time Coretta Scott King Award winner, and illustrated by the highly-praised artist Floyd Cooper is an outstanding picture book biography of the courageous anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass.

Walter Dean Myers’ storytelling is full of a pulsing grace as it works its way from the birth of Frederick into slavery in Maryland in 1818 to his daring escape to New York at the age of twenty to his brilliant career as an anti-slavery and pro women’s rights activist.

Myers tells how as a nine-year old Frederick became aware of the importance of being able to read when he was given a few reading lessons by the mistress of the Auld house along with her children. This abruptly stopped when John Auld intervened saying that if a slave can read it would make him unfit to be a slave. This made Frederick even more determined to become literate. He studied old newspapers and taught himself to read.

At the age of sixteen he was loaned out to a brutal man named Edward Covey.  Next, Frederick was hired out to the shipyards as a caulker. While there he met free black sailors and imagined himself as free as they were. Eventually he decided to pose as one of them using seaman’s papers and dressing like them. He boarded a train for the North and the disguise worked. He finally arrived in New York City and found a safe house. He began a career speaking against slavery and for women’s rights, publishing newspapers and serving the government in a variety of roles.

The use of erasers and oils to create the illustrations casts a soft beauty over the images. Breathtaking are the pictures of Douglass looking at an old newspaper as he teaches himself to read, Douglass rebelling against Covey and the final picture of Douglass addressing crowds and changing minds.


Questions for FREDERICK DOUGLASS: The Lion Who Wrote History

Please read the book carefully a second time as well as the Timeline that is in the back material and find the answers to these questions:

Why did Frederick Augustus Washington Baily change his name?

Why did Frederick Douglass allow his supporters to buy his freedom from slave owner Hugh Auld?

Why did Frederick Douglass help recruit soldiers for the Union Army’s 54th Regiment during the Civil War? What was his thinking?

Study the third double spread illustration in the book. What do you think young Frederick is thinking about? Create a caption for this illustration. Which illustration in the book is your favorite? Why?

Walter Dean Myers quotes slave owner John Auld as saying, “Teaching a slave to read will make him unfit to be a slave.”  What does this mean to you? Think about this and discuss it with a parent or teacher.