cover image Dear Benjamin Banneker

Dear Benjamin Banneker

Andrea Davis Pinkney. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200417-0

The Pinkneys (Alvin Ailey; Seven Candles for Kwanzaa) continue their impressive collaboration with this memorable portrait of Benjamin Banneker, a free African American born in 1731. Lucid text and striking illustrations, rendered on scratchboard and colored with oil paint, shape a solid, sober tribute of a vigorous thinker, a self-taught mathematician and scientist, a man concerned with civil rights. This persevering man labored by day on his Maryland tobacco farm; by night he observed the sky and learned astronomy. Producing an almanac-something no African American had ever done-he tried in vain to find a publisher. In 1790, the president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery helped him secure publication-but it was so late in the year that Banneker had to create an entirely new set of calculations. He recognized the irony of his achievement: while the almanac would be of use to many individuals and would demonstrate the abilities of black people, he realized that slaves themselves would never benefit from his book, since most were forbidden to learn to read or to have books. Banneker's frustration led him to write to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, pointing out the statesman's inconsistency in proclaiming that all men are created equal even as he owned slaves. Excerpts from the correspondence between the two men are woven into the narrative, deepening the poignancy of this moving story with the presence of historical weight. Ages 6-10. Children's BOMC featured selection. (Oct.)