From School Library Journal
Grade 2-5--This story revolves around the descendants of freed slaves struggling to assert their right to vote after the Civil War. Despite being legally enfranchised by the Fifteenth Amendment, many roadblocks still stand in the way of black men like Samuel T. Blow: functional illiteracy, the lingering bigotry of the white men in power, and the spiritual paralysis born of many years spent with no rights at all. But Samuel's young son, Simms, helps his father learn to read and write his own name, which gives the man the courage to lead their community to the polling place on Election Day. Battle-Lavert employs regional colloquialisms and a simple narrative structure to tell her story, and Bootman's dense oil paintings evoke the mood and setting of the period. An epilogue covers the politics and other complications that kept African Americans from voting as freely as whites before 1966. Minor problems arise in the text, however, as when it suggests that Samuel--who has only recently learned to read and write his own name--could manage a written ballot without help. Since the plot focuses on his illiteracy, it seems a bit facile for the text to imply that learning to sign his name was the only educational hurdle for him to clear. Nevertheless, this is a powerful story with a lot to offer to young readers.--Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC
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Gr. 1-3. Bootman's burnished oils in browns and golds and a beautiful antique type font help foster the gentle ambience of this powerful story. Simms is always at Papa's side, and he eagerly awaits Papa's first opportunity, as an African-American, to vote. But Papa wants to sign his name, not an X, to get his ballot. He practices signing his name, Samuel T. Blow, and Simms helps him. While urging his fellows to go to town to vote, Simms listens to their fear of the townspeople's wrath, not all of whom are happy to see black men voting. But Simms sticks by his father, and when all the men choose to go to vote, the white shopkeeper in town goes in side-by-side with Samuel T. He signs his name, and he and Simms put the ballot in the box together. "Simms grinned. Papa voted. Lamar County changed." An author's note explains the poll tax, literacy tests, and other obstacles designed in the post-Civil War South to keep black men from voting. GraceAnne DeCandidoCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved