April 6 – 19th Amendment Centennial Interview with Author Elisa Boxer & “The Voice that Won the Vote” Review

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Elisa Boxer is an Emmy-winning journalist and columnist whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, Inc., and Fast Company. She has always been passionate about children’s literature, and finds herself especially drawn to stories of unsung heroes like Febb and Harry Burn. The Voice That Won the Vote is her first book, and she hopes it inspires children to give voice to what matters to them. Elisa lives in Maine with her family.

Today, I’m excited to chat with Elisa Boxer about her timely The Voice Who Won the Vote, her work as a journalist, and the themes woven through all of her stories. Elisa also gives kids an intriguing writing prompt. And my blogging partner Jakki’s sons, Steve and Jack, are back with their questions too!

 Steve asked: How did you find the letter Febb Burn wrote to her son?

Hi Steve! So glad you liked the book. The story of how I found the letter goes back to a couple of years ago when my agent, Steven Chudney, let me know that 2020 would be the 100th Anniversary of women getting the right to vote. He asked if I could come up with a picture book about it. I’ve always been drawn to stories of unsung heroes, so I scoured the internet for little-known figures in the suffrage movement. When I stumbled across the story of Febb Burn and learned that she was the mom who saved suffrage, I knew this was a story I wanted to tell! More digging led me to the online archives at the Knox County Library in Tennessee. These archives included the letter.

By the way, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s a photo of the actual letter: http://cmdc.knoxlib.org/cdm/ref/collection/p265301coll8/id/699

I think it’s so cool to see the original papers that Harry received and read that day in the legislature back in 1920.  And to see Febb’s actual handwriting! Aaah! I tend to geek out over historical documents like this.

Jack wondered: How much research did you have to do?

Hi Jack! The short answer is: Lots. After I found Febb’s story on the internet, I read as many articles online as I could find. I also read several books about the women’s suffrage movement. I wanted more background information to put the story in context, and I also wanted to know more about the legislative session in Tennessee that led to Harry Burn tipping the scales and giving women the right to vote. I also enlisted the help of the Special Collections department at the University of Tennessee Libraries. One of the most exciting things they shared with me was a scanned version of Harry Burn’s personal scrapbook from 1920, containing newspaper clippings and headlines from his historic vote!

Jack and Steve would like to know: Is voting important to you?

Definitely. I started the book with the line: “A vote is a voice,” because I believe that voting is one of the most powerful ways we can have our say in society.

Hi Elisa! I read in your bio that even as a child you loved to write. In fact, if readers look on your website they’ll see a picture of quite a large group of books with covers written in crayon. I’m sure kids would love to know what some of those stories were about. Can you share a few of the ideas you wrote about as a child?

Sure! It’s fun to look back on those and see some common themes, like defying authority (You Can’t Catch Me, for example, about a girl outrunning her parents) and grief (I wrote The Kitten and the Puppy after losing my beloved dog). And then, there was a book about a dinosaur making friends with a little girl and moving into her house, which I think I wrote because I had just learned how to draw dinosaurs ;).

With your early interest in writing books, did you ever consider becoming a children’s writer or novelist before going into journalism? What was it about journalism that attracted you?

Even though I’ve loved reading and writing children’s books for as long as I can remember, I never really considered making a career of it. I wish I had followed that passion earlier. I’m 49 and my first book was just published. So if you have any interest in creating children’s books, don’t wait as long as I did! Although, having said that, I really do love print and broadcast journalism. My specialty has always been long-form journalism, which involves in-depth research, multiple interviews, and spending time crafting a story. A lot like writing nonfiction picture books, actually. A couple of years ago, I got sidelined with a severe case of Lyme disease. It hurt to move and breathe and I was basically housebound. So that’s when I decided to re-visit my childhood passion. I began dusting off old picture book manuscripts, revising them, and querying agents.

Your stories in print for newspapers and for television news have garnered many awards. What aspects of story do you infuse into each of your pieces? What do you like best about each medium?

(Blushing). I am always looking for the soul of the story. Even with straight news pieces, I want to find people and circumstances to bring those stories to life in a way that readers or viewers can relate to. The thing I like best is the same for each medium, and that is finding the point of emotional resonance, the subtext, the theme that will stick with the audience long after they put down the paper or the magazine or turn off the TV. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I love books so much: people pick them up again and again. Sure, you can save a newspaper or magazine article that resonates with you. But it’s not the same as that feeling of finishing a book, internalizing its message, holding it in your hands and knowing it’s yours to return to whenever you want.

It seems very fitting that your first published book is a picture book. What is it about Febb Burn’s story that you think is most important for kids to know?

I really want kids to know how much their voices matter. It’s so easy to feel powerless, especially given the state of the world right now. But I hope kids come away from the book realizing that one small act of courage, in the form of giving voice to what matters to them, really can change the world.

Vivien Mildenberger’s illustrations are so evocative of 1920. What was your first reaction to seeing your story illustrated? Do you have a favorite spread?

Aren’t Vivien’s illustrations amazing? I’m still blown away by them every time I see the book. When I first saw her work on her website, even before I saw her illustrations for the book, I knew that her old-world style would be a perfect fit for this story. And then when I first saw her preliminary sketches, I thought, WHOA, this is going to be even better than I could have imagined. Hmmm, it’s tough to pick a favorite spread. But I’d have to say the one where Harry Burn is looking out the window of the state capitol, watching the throngs of people arrive to witness history. She really captures the mood here. “America was on the verge of change,” the text reads. You can’t even see Harry’s face, but Vivien somehow managed to convey so much tension and anticipation in this spread. You can feel his inner struggle to do what’s right and follow his heart in the face of opposition.

What’s up next for you?

I’m super excited to say that I have several more picture books on the way during the next couple of years, all nonfiction. I’m also working on a chapter book and two middle grade books, one nonfiction and the other historical fiction.

As kids stay home and are schooled at home, it’s wonderful to see them interacting with the kidlit community. Would you like to give readers a writing prompt?

It really is so wonderful to be interacting with kids, their parents and their teachers. As for a prompt, I’d ask kids: With the world the way it is, what are the words, the scenes, the images, and the messages that would touch your heart? In other words, what is the book you need right now? Take one small step to start creating it. And then another…

Thanks, Elisa! It’s been wonderful talking with you! I wish you all the best with The Voice Who Won the Vote, and I can’t wait to read your upcoming books. I hope we’ll have a chance to chat again!

You can connect with Elisa on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter 

To order a signed, personalized copy of The Voice that Won the Vote, visit Print: A Bookstore.

19th Amendment Centennial Review

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About the Holiday

This year we celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed a woman’s right to vote. The victory was long fought and hard won and still informs issues of democracy and equal rights today. For more information on the history of suffrage and to learn more about the brave women on the front lines of progress, visit the 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative website and Women’s Vote Centennial. You’ll find extensive resources, curriculum for middle school and high school students, as well as online exhibits, videos, and so much more.

The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History

Written by Elisa Boxer | Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

 

The year was 1920 and women were demanding the right to vote, just as they had been for the last seventy-five years. But all of their meetings, shouting, and signs were silenced. Men called the women “troublemakers” and “uncivilized.” Some men said it would “cause chaos” if women could vote, and others said “‘the only vote a woman needs is the vote to choose her husband.” There were even other women who thought women shouldn’t vote.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then there was Febb Burn from East Tennessee who had gone to college, become a teacher, and loved to keep learning. She was especially interested in laws and how they were made, and every year as she watched her farmhands head off to vote on election day, she wanted to be able to go too. Finally, she grew so tired of being “shut out of the process” that she wrote a letter to her son.

Who was her son? His name was Harry Burn, and he was the “youngest lawmaker in Tennessee.” As he read his mother’s letter, he watched out his window as people from across the country gathered to decide the fate of women’s suffrage. One round of voting had already taken place, and it had resulted in a tie. Thirty-five states had voted yes on the issue, but thirty-six were needed to make it a law. Harry Burn for Tennessee had been one of the “no” votes in the first round. Now in the second round, Harry Burn would be the deciding vote. A “no” would deny women the vote, while a “yes” would change elections forever.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

“He knew that most of the people who had elected him hated the idea of women voting.” Many of them were even in the audience and were counting on him. He was, after all, wearing a red rose—”the symbol of keeping women in the home, and out of the voting booth”—in his pocket. When it came time for Harry to vote, all eyes were on him as he said “‘Yes.’” The officials thought he’d “made a mistake” or “gotten confused,” but he hadn’t. The suffragettes cheered and hugged.

Everyone wanted to know why Harry Burn had changed his mind. In answer, he pulled from his pocket the letter his mother had written urging him to vote for suffrage. Harry constituents were shocked and angry. They vowed to vote against him in the next election. The headlines in the newspapers said that Harry had ruined his career. But Harry already knew that. He knew that his vote would mean “giving up his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.”

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When interviewed for newspaper articles, Harry said that he had followed his conscience that all people should have the right to vote. At last the election was held, and Harry awaited his fate as all the votes were counted. Who would be the next Tennessee Representative? Harry Burn! “And no one was prouder than the woman who, without speaking a word, gave all women a vote.”

In an Author’s Note, Elisa Boxer talks more about the women’s suffrage movement, the courage to stand up for what you believe in, and the power of using the vote to voice your opinion. A timeline of significant events in the women’s suffrage movement is also included.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020, text copyright Elisa Boxer, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

For anyone wondering about the power of one vote, Elisa Boxer puts all doubts to rest with her engaging recounting of this little-known true story. While Harry Burn’s vote took place 100 years ago, the courage he showed in standing up for his own conscience and in opposition to what was expected of him reverberates today. Boxer opens the story with a clear and meaningful definition of how a vote equals one’s voice, instilling in children who are learning to speak up for themselves in classrooms, on social media, and elsewhere the importance of voting when they come of age.

Her inclusion of quotes revealing the reasons behind opposition to women’s suffrage will be eye-opening. Her well-paced building of suspense going into the second vote and the aftermath will have kids on the edge of their seat and offers many opportunities to discuss the mechanisms of politics, expectations, and courage. Through her straightforward yet multilayered storytelling, Boxer presents two heroes for children to look up to: Harry, who put the good of the country and women ahead of his own career and Febb, who used her voice to make lasting change.

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Image copyright Vivien Mildenberger, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Vivien Mildenberger’s lovely, textured illustrations take readers back to the pivotal year of 1920, when vocal suffragettes faced their equally vocal opposition and Febb Burn, sitting on her front porch decided to write her life-changing letter. Images of politicians sporting yellow and red roses reveal the long tradition of color as an identifying symbol. An especially powerful spread comes after Harry’s vote as he walks among his angry constituents, all of whom shun him behind newspapers full of articles about the historic vote. The inclusion of the actual Febb Burn’s letter to Harry and a photograph of Febb give readers see and hear from this influential woman.

A stirring true story about the power of one person to make a difference, The Voice that Won the Vote is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 7 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110496

You can download a The Voice that Won the Vote Teaching Guide from Sleeping Bear Press here.

Discover more about Elisa Boxer, her book, journalism, and other work on her website.

To learn more about Vivien Mildenberger, her books, and her art on her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

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Get Out and Vote! Maze

 

Help the girl find her way through the maze to the ballot box so she can cast her vote in this printable maze.

Get Out and Vote! Maze | Get Out and Vote! Maze Solution

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You can find The Voice the Won the Vote at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Print: A Bookstore

Picture Book Review

 

March 10 – International Day of Awesomeness

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate awesomeness, and in particular the fact that you are awesome! Begun as an inside joke among coworkers, International Day of Awesomeness continues to grow, attracting more and more awesome individuals around the world. To celebrate get creative and perform feats of awesomeness—whatever that might mean to you. You can also read about awesome people and their accomplishments to get you fired up to do awesome things of your own all through the year. Why not start with today’s book?!

Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama (Work It, Girl Series)

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

 

Encouraging, supportive, and always smiling, Michelle Obama inspired millions of kids across the country during her eight years as First Lady and continues to motivate children to be and become the best version of themselves. Through her fast-paced, engrossing biography, Caroline Moss creates a reading experience that gives children the opportunity to get to know their idol the way friends do: by talking together. In ten short, but information-packed chapters, Moss captures Michelle’s voice and spirit through snapshots of formative events that influenced and changed her life, all told in a conversational style with plenty of dialogue and fascinating details.

Accompanying this personal narrative are Sinem Erkas’s stunning 3-D cut paper artwork. Bold colors, stirring imagery, and portraits that follow Michelle through times of happiness, sadness, and change reveal to readers Michelle’s intelligence, spark, hard work, and enthusiasm for life that fuels her vision and success.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapter 1, readers are invited in to Michelle’s home on her 8th birthday. They learn about her family, the house they share with relatives, including her favorite aunt, Aunt Robbie, and the loving atmosphere that formed her values and sense of community that “would inspire her to go on and change communities across the US – and beyond.”

Chapter 2 takes readers into Michelle’s second-grade classroom, where “she loved reading, making up stories in her head and on the page, and creating art” and was frustrated by the inattention of the other kids who always seemed to be “bouncing off the walls.” Here they also discover certain events on her road from that classroom to high school graduation that helped Michelle develop her strength and self-confidence.

In Chapter 3 Michelle enters Princeton University, the college of her dreams. She makes friends, gets a job that “helped her think about a world outside her own,” and had a small, but life-changing experience that made her realize that “she did not have to blend into the background” or always “take the easy route. She started to imagine herself as a helper and an influential voice in her community, as a smart mind with ideas to share with the world.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

By Chapter 5 Michelle has graduated from Harvard Law School and taken a job at a Chicago law firm. But while she loved her job, she was struggling with medical challenges faced by her father and her best friend. “Michelle had a lot to juggle, but she was becoming pretty awesome at taking on lots of different tasks with a smile.” When does Michelle meet Barak? That comes in Chapter 6, when he got a job at the same law firm Michelle worked for. Readers get to hear about his first day on the job and the impression he made on her, how she came to think of him as her best friend at work, and about their first date.

Chapter 7 begins as Michelle is thinking about the course she wants her life to take. She realizes that she didn’t want to be a lawyer. “But what did she want to be; who did she want to be? Michelle had no idea, but she knew she wanted to change the world around her and leave it better than she found it.” She soon found herself working at Chicago City Hall. Her enthusiasm and success there led her to be hired by an organization that “found inspiring young people who showed promise in making a difference” and who would go on to “take leadership jobs in their communities.” It was also during this time that Barak proposed and took a new job helping to register first-time voters.

In Chapter 8, the Obamas’ lives take a big leap toward their future as Michelle gets a new job with the University of Chicago, where she was to “create a sustainable program that would help connect the university with its community.” During these years Malia and Sasha are born and Barack runs for and wins a seat in the US Senate, going on to become President. What did Michelle think about all of these changes? Young readers will discover her conflicting feelings: wariness, excitement, pride, and the belief that “one person could make a difference.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

As Chapter 9 opens, Michelle and Barack and their family have moved into the White House. For Michelle that meant developing an “‘official initiative’ for her time in the White House.” Readers learn how she designed her ‘Let’s Move!’ program, aimed at keeping “kids healthy through education and learning good habits.” In Chapter 10, the Obamas leave the White House, “but Michelle knew her story had just begun.” She wrote a book sharing her stories and her life. Now new adventures await her and it will “only be a matter of time before she [sets] out to change the world once more.”

Sprinkled throughout the text are inspirational quotes from Michelle Obama that are called out in eye-catching blocks and soaring illustrations. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Michelle Obama’s life on how to become a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about what is important to them, and resources for further reading and exploration.

Emphasizing family, community, self-confidence, and the importance of seizing opportunities to make a difference, Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to hearten and embolden young readers to listen to their inner voices and take action for what they believe in.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245181

Discover more about Caroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Day of Awesomeness Activity

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Awesomeness Cards

 

Do you have some awesome people in your life? Give them one of these printable Awesomeness Cards and watch them smile!

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You can find Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 26 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they have made to the United States History. Appropriately for this election year, the theme for 2020 is “African Americans and the Vote,” which recognizes the struggle for both black men as well as women throughout American history. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 and gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War. It has also been one hundred years since women gained the right to vote. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

 

As a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan was known for her distinctive voice. “That voice. That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice. What do you do with a voice like that?” Barbara recited poetry, gave speeches, and in 1952 won an oratory contest with a trip to Chicago as the prize. She was proud of herself and where her voice was leading her. But where would that be?

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

She considered becoming a preacher, a teacher, and a lawyer. When a black woman lawyer gave a speech at Barbara’s high school, Barbara thought she had found her calling. She attended college where she “learned how to find facts for herself, debate important issues, defend good ideas, and dismantle bad ones.” She graduated with a law degree, but practicing law became boring. She wrote more than she spoke, and the work was not demanding enough.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

It was 1960, and Barbara decided to lend her voice to causes she believed in. She became involved in politics, and on one pivotal night, she filled in for a speaker who was absent. “The audience loved her. They trusted her. Most important they were inspired to do something—to get out and vote” and to persuade others to vote. Barbara decided to run for office. She lost her first two elections, but the third one she won.

Barbara Jordan was now a Texas state senator, representing the people she grew up with. She believed in making changes from within the political system through debating issues on the Senate floor. She also got to know her colleagues outside of work, and they got to know her. They listened to each other, and positive changes were the result. In 1972, Barbara ran for Congress and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

In 1973, the Watergate scandal broke. “President Nixon, it seemed, had broken the law, and Congress had to decide what to do about it.” Once again, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Barbara used her voice to remind Congress and the American people that “the Constitution is the document governing all the laws in the United States and applies to all of its people.” Then “in her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident tone” she said, “‘My faith in the Constitution is whole…. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.’” Barbara said that the president must go. President Nixon resigned in 1974.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Barbara became a star, shining “like a bright light in a dark place.” She became the voice for those battling discrimination, for those “who had less power…who possessed quieter strengths than her own…who did not want to be limited by their weaknesses.” People talked about Barbara becoming a Senator, a Supreme Court Justice, or possibly Vice President.

But Barbara, unknown even to herself, had been struggling with multiple sclerosis, and now her inner voice told her that the place she belonged was home. Back in Texas, she became a college professor, where she taught her students not only to “do something, but to do the right thing.” Her students are still working today, striving to make the world a better place and to inspire everyone to make their voices heard.

An Author’s Note, a detailed timeline of Barbara Jordan’s life, and other recommended resources follows the text.

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Image copyright Ekua Holmes, 2018, text copyright Chris Barton, 2018. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Chris Barton’s stirring biography of Barbara Jordan introduces children to a woman whose voice is just as relevant today as it was when she was a state senator, US representative, and professor. Barton clearly and lyrically depicts Jordan’s trajectory while showing readers what it takes to succeed: practice, perseverance, learning, and wisdom. For young readers Barton briefly but cogently outlines the core of the case against Richard Nixon then allows readers to hear, in her own words, Jordan’s rousing defense of the Constitution. His inclusion of Jordan’s seventeen years of teaching after her diagnosis of MS is a poignant reminder that her influence is still heard through her students and admirers, and Barton’s final exhortation to readers to speak out honors Barbara Jordan’s life and will impel both children and adults to follow her lead.

Ekua Holmes stunning mixed-media illustrations will set readers’ hearts soaring in this over-sized picture book that beautifully reflects Barbara Jordan’s influence in politics and beyond. Holmes’ collages, rendered in lush colors and textured with intricate patterns and images from nature, take children on Jordan’s journey from sun-drenched Texas to law school to Washington DC, giving them a glimpse of her childhood and her growing stature as a stateswoman. Today’s savvy readers will be interested in the examples of campaign materials and images of Jordan’s building relationships with diverse voters and her fellow senators and representatives. Several photographs of Jordan from her graduation, campaigns, and televised appearances during the Watergate hearings join Holmes’ realistic portraits and will inspire readers to learn more about this influential and unforgettable woman.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481465618

Discover more about Chris Barton and his books on his website.

To learn more about Ekua Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Black History Month Activity

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Barbara Jordan Inspirational Poster

 

If you have ideas about how to make the world better, print this poster of Barbara Jordan and write how you would like to use your voice on the back. This can be through speech, writing, art, community involvement, or any way that uses your talents.

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You can find What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review