cover image Steamboat School

Steamboat School

Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Ron Husband. Disney-Jump at the Sun, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4231-2196-1

Hopkinson (Courage & Defiance) offers a graceful fictional recounting of a St. Louis minister’s courageous and clever response to a 1847 Missouri law that prohibited the education of African-Americans. A former slave who worked tirelessly to buy his freedom (as well as that of his parents, wife, and children), John Berry Meachum ran a secret school for black children in his church basement. In this reimagining, new student James complains about the darkness of the school, which is illuminated only by a candle. “We make our own light here,” replies Meachum. After the sheriff closes the school, Meachum builds a steamboat that his students help scrub and paint, then opens a new—and legal—school on the vessel, moored midriver on federal property. The determination of Reverend John and the children radiates from longtime Disney animator Husband’s elegant illustrations, finely crosshatched in ink and colored in muted blues, reds, and browns. Gentle yet forceful, it’s an affecting tribute to an unsung crusader for equal rights and education. Closing notes provide details about Meachum’s life and Hopkinson’s research. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (June)