Many readers may be familiar with Frederick Douglass as a man who escaped slavery and became a fiery abolitionist orator. Tonya Bolden’s engaging, deeply researched, and visually beautiful biography narrates the many other aspects of Douglass’s life: his entrepreneurial spirit as a newspaper publisher, his involvement in the budding women’s rights movement, and his advocacy of voting rights for African-Americans after the Civil War. They will learn about his wife and children as they supported his work, and about the arguments and debates between Douglass and other activists of his time. Bolden’s biography introduces readers to the opinions of his contemporaries, as they praised or criticized him for his political positions. Just as importantly, it shows us an inquisitive person who loved the early art of photography and enjoyed playing the violin.
Bolden’s writing is lively and interesting. She makes liberal and effective use of primary source material, sometimes placing enlarged quotations from disagreeing contemporary sources on facing pages, so that readers can consider how controversial some of Douglass’s positions were. Readers can also trace Douglass’s appearance throughout the book through a succession of early photographs, or daguerreotypes. In a brilliant move, Bolden first introduces Douglass, not as an ‘escaped slave,’ but as a man who loved photography and wished to have his own photograph taken again and again. Young readers who like biographies will appreciate this addition to their collection, and readers who are interested in Black history or in women’s history will also find it a fascinating read.
Naomi Lesley ©2018 Parents’ Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.