The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

Ages: 8 - 12Publisher: Simon & Schuster Author: Lesa Cline-RansomeIllustrator: John Parra


Ethel Payne grew up on the south side of Chicago listening to family stories of the struggles of African Americans. Every Saturday, her mother, a Latin teacher, took Ethel and her five siblings across the city to best libraries in the white side of town. Ethel, who loved to read and write, had to walk through hostile white neighborhoods to a predominantly white high school. There a teacher, Miss Dixon, encouraged her writing by day, and her mother encouraged her writing by night.

After graduating from college at the end of WWII, Ethel went to Japan to work as a club social director for black American soldiers. Writing about their struggles in a prejudiced world, her articles were published in papers in the United States, especially The Chicago Defender, one of only two daily black newspapers in the country. Upon her return, the Defender hired her and eventually sent her to Washington, D.C. where she served in the White House press corps and questioned five U.S. presidents about civil rights issues. She richly earned her title, “The First Lady of the Black Press.”

The brightly colored, stylized illustrations, though painted, have edges so sharp, that they seem to be collage. They depict the text, not realistically, but by capturing highlights of the text, such as the double-page spread of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.


Kemie Nix ©2020 Parents’ Choice

Kemie Nix is Chairman of Children’s Literature for Children (CLC), a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational organization dedicated to bringing children and books together. Mrs. Nix, a senior book editor for Parents’ Choice, has a remarkable sense of selecting books children love to read.

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