Born Dec. 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Va., Ella Josephine Baker grew up under the influence of her grandfather and grandmother, freed slaves who toiled on the farm on which they had been enslaved until they were able to purchase it. Granddaddy was a preacher, and Ella listened intently in the pew: “He preached / Give to others. / He preached / Join together. / He spoke / Freedom. / He asked / What do you hope to accomplish?” Equally influential in the young girl’s life was her mother, whose motto—“Lift as you climb”—shaped Ella’s life.
When Ella was 14, she was sent to a boarding school and attended high school and college. After she graduated and moved to New York City, Ella asked herself, “What do I hope to accomplish?” Her answer—she would lift as she climbed. Ella began to fight for the rights of her people. When she spoke in churches and other settings, she asked her audience the same question Granddaddy had posed years earlier and shared her mother’s motto.This timely chronicle of Ella’s energetic, devoted life is complemented by gripping portrayals of the civil rights movement that capture the fear, sadness, resolve, anger, and intensity of participants. Young readers will encounter a woman worth emulating—a person who didn’t seek the limelight, who didn’t want to create her own movement of followers, and who understood that seeking justice meant more than fighting only for the rights of African Americans. Hers was a more encompassing vision: “We are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit.” Though recommended for children ages 4 to 8, this book is better suited for ages 8 and older. (Margaret K. McElderry Books)