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Bread for Words

A Frederick Douglass Story

Frederick Douglass knew where he was born but not when. He knew his grandmother but not his father. And as a young child, there were other questions, such as Why am I a slave? Answers to those questions might have eluded him but Douglass did know for certain that learning to read and to write would be the first step in his quest for freedom and his fight for equality. Told from first-person perspective, this picture-book biography draws from the real-life experiences of a young Frederick Douglass and his attempts to learn how to read and write. Author Shana Keller (Ticktock Banneker's Clock) personalizes the text for young readers, using some of Douglass's own words. The lyrical title comes from how Douglass "paid" other children to teach him.

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Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level Grade 2
Dewey 973.8092 B
Lexile 560
ATOS Reading Level
Guided Reading Level N
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781534110014), PDF (9781534166677), Hosted ebook (9781534166813)
Copyright 2020
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations

School Library Journal Online - Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story

Gr 2-5–This picture book biography focuses on Frederick Douglass’s childhood quest to learn to read and write. Narrated from his point of view, the text follows Douglass from one master to the next while he realizes that literacy would be the key to his freedom. Douglass employs a creative method to learn reading and writing skills from other children, paying them in surplus food—the inspiration for the book’s title. The watercolor-style illustrations in an earth tone palette serve as a lovely backdrop for the narrative. Many pages feature a red-wing blackbird observing the scene, possibly symbolizing Douglass’s eventual flight from slavery. His persistence in learning to read and write and the clever means through which he attained these skills are inspiring. However, readers may be frustrated that the book ends somewhat abruptly without explaining how that knowledge helped him escape slavery or become an abolitionist. These questions are partially answered in the back matter, but young readers may still need additional resources. Nevertheless, Keller shows the complexity of slavery and the driving need for freedom. VERDICT This story will make a valuable addition to biography collections and resources for studies in Black history.

Author: Shana Keller

Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

Illustrator: Kayla Stark

Kayla Stark is an illustrator who spends most of her time working on children’s picture books and young adult novels. In her free time, she can be found traveling as much as possible and dreaming up stories to share. She currently calls Nashville, Tennessee, home, and lives in a small, cozy house with her husband and two cats. Learn more about her at kaylastark.com.

  • Beginning of Text
  • Frederick Douglass – His Life
  • Author's Note