Review of She Was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm

She Was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm
by Katheryn Russell-Brown; illus. by Eric Velasquez
Primary, Intermediate    Lee & Low    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-62014-346-9    $19.95

“Unbought and Unbossed”: Shirley Chisholm’s 1968 campaign slogan, still relevant today. Russell-Brown (Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, rev. 11/14) engagingly presents the life of Chisholm, born in Brooklyn in 1924. Unable to support their children, Shirley’s parents took Shirley and her sisters to Barbados to live with their grandmother, “whose house was stocked with love, rules, and chores.” Shirley excelled academically and loved living among the Black Barbadians. She and her younger sisters returned home during the Great Depression, and her predominantly white school demoted her from sixth to fourth grade because she knew so little U.S. history. With a tutor’s help, Shirley soon took an interest in America’s political system and attended Brooklyn College, where she became an award-winning debater. A schoolteacher and community activist, Chisholm became a New York State assemblywoman, then the first Black Congresswoman, steadfastly following her grandmother’s mantra: “always…speak the truth.” Chisholm broke further ground as an African American woman running for president, in 1972. Velasquez’s vibrant watercolor illustrations capture Chisholm’s determination and passion for improving life for Americans with the fewest advantages. The informative and useful back matter includes an afterword, source notes, and photos.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dr. Michelle H. Martin
Dr. Michelle H. Martin
Dr. Michelle H. Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children & Youth Services in the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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