October 30, 2014
Fifty Cents and a Dream by Jabari Asim
Fifty Cents and a Dream:
Young Booker T. Washington
by Jabari Asim
Little Brown and Company
When Booker walks the master’s daughter to school, he fingers the covers of the books he carries. No slave is taught to read but he longs to know what the strange symbols on the page mean. He listens at the schoolhouse window, memorizing what the teacher says and dreaming that one day he too will be allowed to attend school.
When slavery is abolished, Booker doesn’t go to school. He goes to work at the salt furnace. The work is hot and dangerous and Booker dreams of something better.
Then Mama buys him a speller. Slowly, slowly, Booker unlocks the secrets and attends the school for Negroes in the evening. During the day he still has to work.
As a teenager, he hears about the Hampton Institute, a school of higher learning for Negroes. His parents and his neighbors don’t have much but Booker saves his money and they give him what they can. To make the best use of his funds, Booker sets out to walk the 500 miles to school. With 82 miles to go, his funds run out. Booker is tired and cold and hungry but he doesn’t give up.
I knew about Booker T. Washington as the founder of the Tuskegee Institute but I knew nothing about his early life. This book is a solid introduction to this important historical figure.
Bryan Collier created the illustrations for this book with watercolor and collage. The effect is often dark and sombre but appropriate for this time and tale of struggle.
That said, this isn’t a downer of a book. This is the story of a man who struggled and worked to gain an education and to build a school where other struggling people could study. Add it to your classroom shelf today.