Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

Jabari Asim
Illustrator:  Bryan Collier 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012   ISBN: 978-0316086578

Like all young children, Booker wanted to be free to play in the outdoors. He also wanted to be free to learn how to read, but since Booker was slave, he wasn’t allowed to learn how to read and if he was caught reading a book he would be whipped “or worse.” One of Booker’s jobs was to walk his master’s daughter to school and carry her books, books that he was forbidden to explore. While she learned her ABCs, he stood outside the schoolhouse in the heat and “he listened and dreamed.”

   In 1865 the slaves were finally freed but this did not mean that Booker was now free to pursue his dreams. Booker’s family needed him to work, and work he did in a salt furnace and in a coal mine in West Virginia. Life was hard, but one day Booker’s mother gave him a present, a spelling book. Booker set to work learning his ABCs, and when a colored man came to town who could read, Booker joined others to listen to the young man read the news.

   Eventually Booker was able to attend a school for Negroes, though he could only do so after he had done a full day of work. As he grew up and learned, he dreamed of going to the Hampton Institute, a boarding school where he could learn about science and agriculture and where he would be able to read as much as he liked. Booker saved money when he could, as did his friends, family members, and neighbors. Then, at long last, Booker set off for the Hampton Institute, traveling the five hundred miles to the ocean mostly on foot.

   In this memorable picture book Jabari Asim focuses of the earlier part of Booker T. Washington’s life, paying particular attention to his steadfast determination to get an education. Getting an education is something that we tend to take for granted today, but for a young African American boy not long after the end of the Civil War, finding a way to learn was challenging to say the least.

   Drawing on Booker’s own writings about his life, the author gives children a story that is beautifully written and that shows us how courage, determination, and a strong work ethic made it possible for Booker T. Washington to become a student, a teacher, and the founder of a