Review Detail

Kids Nonfiction 258
Unheralded Civil Rights Leader
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
In this picture book biography, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduces the former member of the House of Representatives who died in 2019. Born in South Carolina to sharecropping parents, Cummings' parents moved to Maryland when he was young to try to escape the prejudice in the South. Along with his six brothers and sisters, Elijah had the opportunity to go to school, although her struggled with his classes. He was also able to go to the public library where he received tutoring from some of the librarians, which helped him to place out of special classes. His mother, who worked in a factory and cleaned houses, managed to become a minister, and Elijah was able to see her work first hand. Encouraged to pursue more education by his parents, he decided to study law. He attended Howard University and assumed leadership positions, eventually becoming a lawyer. In 1983, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. He continually worked to ensure that people of color had fair representation, even as he battled ill health towards the end of his life.
Good Points
There are lots of examples of Cummings' struggles in schools, juxtaposed with his successes, such as delivering newspapers and gaining the support of a pharmacist for whom he worked who gave him the money to apply for college. The role that religion played in his life and work is clearly drawn, which is something I haven't seen very often.

The pictures are vibrantly colored, and the warmth of Cummings' family life is especially well represented. I loved the story about his parents saving to buy a home and not having money for Christmas presents, and Elijah and his siblings pooling their own meager saving to give their parents gifts for the new house. There is a complete timeline at the end of the book, and a small photograph of Cummings, which is always a nice addition, even when the illustrations are well done.

This would make an excellent read aloud for a Book a Day classroom program, and offers a look at a perhaps unknown later Civil Rights figure. Add this to a list of Black picture book biographies that also includes Harrison's Little Leaders, Respress-Churchwell's Follow Chester! : A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History, Winter's Lillian's Right to Vote : a Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Miller's The Quickest Kid in Clarksville.
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