Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Amazing age of John Roy Lynch

The Amazing age of John Roy Lynch

Chris Barton
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Eerdmans, 2015   ISBN: 978-0802853790

Patrick Lynch was an Irishman who worked as an overseer on a plantation in Louisiana. He fell in love with a slave lady called Catherine and together they had two sons, John Roy and William. Though the boys’ father was a free man, they were slaves like their mother, the property of Patrick’s boss. Patrick planned to buy Catherine and his two sons so that they could live as free people, but he died before he could follow through with his plan. Patrick’s heir chose not to free Catherine and her sons. Instead, he sold them.

   John Roy’s new owner did not send the boy into the hot cotton fields because his wife Mrs. Davis needed someone in the house to tend to her needs. John Roy spent his days fanning her, bringing her drinks, opening the door of her carriage and other similar tasks. Then one day John Roy said something that upset his mistress and he was banished from the house and sent to work in the cotton fields.

   The Civil War broke out and then two years later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. That year sixteen-year-old John Roy sold a chicken to a Yankee soldier and was able to pay for a ride across the river to the city of Natchez, Mississippi. He got a job working as a waiter and for the first time in his life he was paid in cash for his labor. As time went by he got better jobs, and after the war was over he got a position working for a photographer. He learned the tricks of the trade and by the time he was nineteen he was able to run the shop on his own.

   As a young man John Roy learned how to read and write, and he learned from reading newspapers that people in the North were not happy that the establishment in the South was still finding ways to oppress African-Americans. Change was coming though and in1867 black men were given the right to vote. John Roy was too young to vote himself, but he wasn’t too young to buy land, and so that was what he did.

    In 1868 the U.S. government gave a young Northern general the job of being the new governor of Mississippi. The governor, who met John Roy and was impressed with him, gave the young man the job of being the Justice of the Peace in Natchez. In just a few years John Roy went from being an impoverished slave to being a man of means who was respected in his town. This was just the beginning of what would be a long life dedicated to service.

   In this remarkable book the author tells the story of a man, and he tells the story of Reconstruction, the name given to the dozen or so years that came after the end of the American Civil War. For a while, things got better for African Americans as the government tried to “put African Americans on more equal footing with white citizens.” It was a time full of hope and promise, and it was a time that shaped the years that followed.

   With a thoughtfully written text and wonderful illustrations throughout, this is an excellent book to share with young readers who are learning about the history of the United States. On the pages they will meet one of the first African Americans who served in the U.S. Congress, and they will discover how complex a country’s past can be.

   At the back of the book readers will find a historical note, a timeline, an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, a list of recommended books, and two maps.