cover image Richard Wright

Richard Wright

William Miller. Lee & Low Books, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-880000-57-1

Miller's (Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree) narrative fictionalizes a pivotal incident recounted in Richard Wright's 1945 autobiography, Black Boy. Born into a poor family that moved often, Richard longs for books but has little access to them: ""the doors of the library were shut against him because he was black."" As a teenager, he finds a job in an optician's shop that he hopes will be his ""ticket to freedom"" by enabling him to earn enough money to move north. Then he hatches a plan to borrow books from the library: he pretends to be checking them out for a sympathetic white co-worker who has lent Richard his card. Richard spends the night reading Dickens, Tolstoy and Stephen Crane (""reading about people who had suffered as he had, even though their skin was white""); afterward, Miller concludes, ""Richard knew he would never be the same again."" The tale closes abruptly, as Richard rides a northbound train, thinking about the books he has read; Miller leaves it to an endnote to mention Wright's success as a writer. Spanning each full spread, Christie's (The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children) acrylic and colored pencil art uses sunless color and heavy brush strokes to set the mood. Though neither text nor pictures are as compelling as the issues they address, the volume offers a trenchant comment on American history and is bound to open the eyes of children who take their privileges for granted. Ages 4-up. (Nov.)