cover image The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illus. by Oge Mora. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6828-7

Mary Walker, born enslaved in 1848 Alabama, knew the first rule of her plantation (“Keep working!”) and the second: “Slaves should not be taught to read or write.” Emancipated at 15, Walker grew to adulthood and into old age, working and raising a family, but still the marks in the Bible she was given as a gift remained illegible. When she was 114 and had outlived her entire family, she entered a reading class, practiced writing until “pages and letters and words swirled in her head,” and at last achieved her goal. Crisp, engaging collages by Mora tell Mary Walker’s story in tapestrylike scenes whose planes of blues and greens convey the slow turning of years. In her early days, the signs and notices on the wall around Mary Walker appear as scribbles, but after she learns to read, they turn into words. Walker’s determination and her long, long life—she died at 121—offer genuine inspiration. Ages 4–8. [em](Jan.) [/em]