John Roy Lynch grew up as a slave in Mississippi, the son of an overseer who tried to free his children from slavery. Unfortunately, his untimely death led to them continuing to be enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation. Lynch found a job, his first paying job, on a steamer ship and worked his way up. At age 17, John Roy went to work for a photographer whose studio was right across from a school. Listening in on the classes and attending night school, John Roy was able to learn to write eloquent letters. He also started being active in politics, buying land, and speaking out. He was appointed Justice of the Peace at age 21. Soon he was elected as the Mississippi Speaker of the House and then in 1872, he became the first African-American US Congressman. Throughout, John Roy Lynch spoke to the needs of the people he represented and the importance of civil rights for all.
Barton provides just enough information for children to understand the time period and the implications of the Emancipation Proclamation. This look at the Reconstruction Period offers a view of an important time in American history, one that is often overlooked in children’s books. The amazing fortitude and resilience of John Roy Lynch keeps this book moving as his own life progresses forward in unexpected ways. Clearly it is his intelligence and gift for communication that carries Lynch forward into a very different life than others around him. More information on Lynch is offered in the final pages of the book with a complete timelines and bibliography.
The illustrations by Tate are done with a light touch, creating a book that depicts darker subjects at time but also infusing the book with a sense of hope and wonder. This makes a book covering such a heavy topic as well as such an important part of history much more appealing and approachable.
An important book focused on an important figure in a dynamic time in American history, this picture book biography will inform new audiences about the potential for both progress and defeat during the Restoration. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.