Review of Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker

Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker
by Patricia Hruby Powell; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Primary, Intermediate    McElderry    48 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-5344-0623-0    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-0624-7    $10.99

“Church said / Help your neighbor. / Mama said / Lift as you climb.” So began the lifework of civil rights activist Ella Baker. The granddaughter of a formerly enslaved couple who bought the land on which they had toiled, Baker was raised to help the less fortunate. As a civil rights leader, she would go to churches and schools, picnics and barbershops, and listen to what the people needed, believing the leadership could come from “the bottom up.” This devotion to self-­empowerment is captured with the refrain “What do you hope to accomplish?” Her leadership style sometimes put her at odds with others (“She ­challenged Reverend King with her ideas. Rather than just the elite and the middle class — what about the poorest? What about the people at the bottom? Dr. King didn’t always agree with Ella. But he respected her”), but her successes led her to spearhead the SCLC (­Southern Christian Leadership Conference), which later became SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating ­Committee). The relaxed pacing, absence of quotation marks, and natural line breaks ensure a smooth read-aloud. Christie’s ­painterly illustrations reinforce the details of Baker’s life — the cool, relaxed blue and green background of her childhood gives way to bright, energetic yellows and pinks as she works for the movement. Varied use of line adds subtle context — the contrast between the ordered array of men to whom Dr. King preaches and the roundtable discussion of the women is telling. Extensive back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary of organizations mentioned in the story, a timeline, and a bibliography.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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