Monday, February 24, 2014

Book-A-Day 24: Dear Mr. Rosenwald

Dear Mr. Rosenwald
Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: R. Gregory Christie 

We had the distinct honor today of meeting Carole Boston Weatherford as she led our students and staff through some of her works for children (blog post about this visit coming soon).  One we did not touch on today, but would love to highlight is her book Dear Mr. Rosenwald which tells the story of the Rosenwald Schools (schools built for African-Americans in the 1920s).  Using poetic form, Mrs. Weatherford describes the process the African-American community underwent in order to provide educational opportunities for their children through the building of a new school.  While Julius Rosenwald (the founder of Sears Robuck) helped to provide partial funding for the schools, the African-American community had to raise their own share in order to move forward with the building of a new school.  The book is broken down into separate poems that carry over into a larger storyline about a young child named Ovella who has plans to attend the school when it is complete.  Through my own research learning about Northside as a Rosenwald School, I was able to make so many immediate connections to the storyline as I read page after page.  My favorite poem is the last one in the book.  It reads, 

Dear Mr. Rosenwald
Even before the bell rang,
we children lined up at the door. 
Me with bows in my hair
and ham biscuits in my lunch pail.
I share a desk with Lottie Mae.
Miss Shaw got busy right away.
Our first lesson -- letter writing. 

Dear Sir,
I am ten.  I like to read books.
My best subject is arithmetic.
My parents are counting on me
to learn all I can.  This school
is the first new thing I ever had 
to call my own.  I'm going to stitch me
a dress in the sewing classroom. 
One day, I'll be a teacher like Miss Shaw. 
Thank you, Mr. Rosenwald.
Yours truly,

Many of the historic Rosenwald schools have since been torn down (including the original Northside) but many that remain have become historic trusts.  This would be a wonderful book to read prior to, or in the midst of examining the history of our own school as a Rosenwald school.  It would serve as a wonderful mentor text for students to engage in close reading and have them begin thinking critically about what these schools meant for the African-American community.  What did they symbolize?  It could also serve as a model text for how a storyline can be created in a poetic form.  Have students examine where Mrs. Weatherford chose to make certain breaks in her poems and discuss how those influence the reading of the poem.

Carole Boston Weatherford began writing in first grade and we learned today that it is something she has always loved to do.  She has written many books for children and has been honored with Coretta Scott King, Caldecott and NAACP book awards for her work.  She currently lives in Fayetteville, NC and teaching English Literature at Fayetteville State University.  We have many of her titles in our library collection.  Illustrator R. Gregory Christie has helped illustrate a number of books for children including Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth. 

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