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Dear Benjamin Banneker


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About the Author

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times best-selling author of several books for young readers, including the novel Bird in a Box, a Today Show Al Roker Book Club for Kids pick, and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award. Additional works include the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book Duke Ellington, illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney; and Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a Coretta Scott King Honor book and winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award. Andrea Davis Pinkney lives in New York City. Brian Pinkney is a celebrated picture-book illustrator who has won two Caldecott Honors. His professional recognition includes the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors. He has collaborated with his wife, author Andrea Davis Pinkney, on several picture books including Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and Sleeping Cutie. The Pinkneys live in Brooklyn, New York.


Gr 1-3-This look at the life and times of the 18th-century black scientist is accompanied by Brian Pinkney's full-page masterful and luminous scratchboard/ oil paintings. Andrea Pinkney provides a basic outline of her subject's youth and years as a tobacco farmer, his passion for learning and interest in astronomy, and his decision to write an almanac. She focuses the account on an exchange of letters in 1791, when Banneker sent a copy of his newly printed almanac to Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. Secretary of State, and chastised him for keeping slaves. The reply sounds like a polite brush-off, and Jefferson made no acknowledgement of the dichotomy between his Declaration of Independence and his ownership of slaves. The quoting of these letters in the prose of the time forces the inclusion of vocabulary and syntax several levels above that of the audience for which the book seems intended. Although the bare-bones details are here, he does not come alive; while the art is lovely, the text offers just a glimpse at this remarkable man's accomplishments. The author states that the publishing of Banneker's almanac ``showed everybody that indeed all men are created equal.'' Since the almanac reached a limited audience, one wonders how many people at the time even knew who Banneker was, or about his ethnic background. Although the book is more accessible to younger readers than Jeri Ferris's What Are You Figuring Now? (Carolrhoda, 1988), it may not hold their attention.-Martha Rosen, Edgewood School, Scarsdale, NY

A nice introduction to a very important person in American history.--American Bookseller

The Pinkneys (Alvin Ailey; Seven Candles for Kwanzaa) continue their impressive collaboration with this memorable portrait of Benjamin Banneker, a free African American born in 1731. Lucid text and striking illustrations, rendered on scratchboard and colored with oil paint, shape a solid, sober tribute of a vigorous thinker, a self-taught mathematician and scientist, a man concerned with civil rights. This persevering man labored by day on his Maryland tobacco farm; by night he observed the sky and learned astronomy. Producing an almanac-something no African American had ever done-he tried in vain to find a publisher. In 1790, the president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery helped him secure publication-but it was so late in the year that Banneker had to create an entirely new set of calculations. He recognized the irony of his achievement: while the almanac would be of use to many individuals and would demonstrate the abilities of black people, he realized that slaves themselves would never benefit from his book, since most were forbidden to learn to read or to have books. Banneker's frustration led him to write to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, pointing out the statesman's inconsistency in proclaiming that all men are created equal even as he owned slaves. Excerpts from the correspondence between the two men are woven into the narrative, deepening the poignancy of this moving story with the presence of historical weight. Ages 6-10. Children's BOMC featured selection. (Oct.)

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