Vision of Beauty: a mighty story of dignity and freedom

Vision of Beauty tells the story of Madame CJ Walker. And a fascinating story it is.

Madame Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, the youngest child in her family and the first person in her family to be born free. Her family were slaves in Louisiana until emancipation in 1865. 

Sarah was born in 1867 and lived an extraordinary life.

During her at once difficult and blessed life, Sarah married twice, had a daughter, and built a cosmetics empire. 

The story is carefully pieced together so that the historically verifiable parts of Sarah’s life are blended with the broader history of her communities and with just enough artistic license to make it easy to read. There’s quite a bit of text on each page for what is also a picture book (and the pictures are wonderful – sometimes troubling, sometimes joyful, sometimes full of despair, sometimes full of hope).

Beginning in the late 1870’s, each short chapter spans a number of years in Sarah’s life and we follow her from being a very young child who works with her family sharecropping, through to just prior to her death at the age of just 51. 

There are insights into the life of poverty and struggle that was the seemingly inevitable lot of colored people immediately following emancipation. (The author Kathryn Lasky explains that she uses the term ‘colored’ to be consistent with the time that Madame Walker lived.) But Sarah manages to rise above her circumstances.

In desperation, having lost almost all of her family and her husband and with her hair falling out, Sarah prays and then starts searching for a homemade cure. 

It's this homemade cure that is the starting point for Sarah’s empire.

This isn’t a religious book – there is just one mention of prayer – but it is certainly inspiring. Best of all, Sarah’s ongoing desire to lift others comes through loud and clear.

There are lots of jumping off points in this story too – mentions of aspects of history that could be more fully investigated such as the emancipation of slaves in the US; the Ku Klux Klan; the rampant effect of Yellow Fever and Cholera; voting rights for women; segregation, discrimination and so on.

With the story of Madame Walker tucked away in memory, we all may choose to work a little harder, forgive and move on a little quicker, care a little more for others, and remember our own self worth a little more easily. Such a wonderful book. 

by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Nneka Bennett - Turtleback Books, 2012
ages 4 to 12 years / diversity, powerful lives, s.o.s.e.

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Names in this book: Owen, Minerva, Alex, Louvenia, Sarah, Leiia, Margaret

new year, new thoughts: thanks for your wisdom, Maya Angelou


Are there some books that your kids just LOVE but that you really don’t?

A few in that category have made their way onto our shelves (who knows how that happened, it’s a mischief!) and my kids keep asking me to read them over and over again. I hold my nose and do it, but I truly feel like I’m wasting my breath and my time, and can’t see how I’m doing any good to anyone.

Well, this week, I read a quote by Maya Angelou that made me think. She said:

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.
— Maya Angelou

Thank you Ms Angelou, for sharing your wonderfulness and wisdom. I’m taking it on board and I’ve resolved to stop trying to smuggle those books out of the house and cringing as I read them for the 10th time in the one day (!).

Instead, I will embrace the joy of children who want me to read to them and be grateful, immensely grateful, that they are forming a habit of and a passion for reading.

Do you have a quote that has inspired you and helped with the everyday? I’d really love to hear about it.

after our marathon break—books about running to inspire, educate and entertain

after our marathon break—books about running to inspire, educate and entertain

Well that turned into a marathon break - the best laid plans and all that! (If you're reading this post in isolation, we took what turned into a way-too-long break from WTBA to get a few other things in order.) 

Speaking of marathons :), I’ve been reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It’s witty and conversational in tone, fascinating and eye opening. Quite inspiring.

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imagining kindness, sharing, abundance, and equality

imagining kindness, sharing, abundance, and equality

ages 2 years to adult
In The Power and The Glory, Graham Greene wrote: “Hate is a lack of imagination.” Perhaps it follows that love is an abundance of imagination. There’s plenty of both to go around in the world just now, so I suppose the thing to do is notice imagination, encourage it, and let it build.

Sometimes we think of imagination as the stuff of fantasy worlds—The Lord of The Rings scaled down to everyday life, if you like. And that’s a wonderful way to imagine. But John Lennon’s Imagine reminds us that there’s more to imagination.

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Ada Lovelace's brilliant combination of imagination, maths and science — the first computer programmer

Ada Lovelace's brilliant combination of imagination, maths and science — the first computer programmer

ages 5 to 10 years
......... Ada is known as the first computer programmer as a result of a paper she published with Charles Babbage—he was the official author, but the footnotes were credited to her. Well, her initials were on them anyway: 'She was afraid her work wouldn’t be taken seriously if people knew it was written by a woman.'

Her life is captivatingly told, from her early years as a child fascinated with flying, to her marriage, her friendships 

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21 books that HRC quotes or recommends—an aspirational reading list

21 books that HRC quotes or recommends—an aspirational reading list

I read Clinton’s latest book because I really wanted to know. What happened?

I have a better understanding of the 2016 debacle of a US Presidential race now, but mostly I have an increased admiration for Clinton.

She’s eloquent and warm—the book feels like sitting down and listening to a friend talk about a pivotal time in her life, which also happened to be pivotal to world history. This is Clinton’s story from her perspective.

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in overcoming fears we become free to reach dreams about who we want to be

in overcoming fears we become free to reach dreams about who we want to be

ages 4 to 10 years
Chris Hadfield (astronaut, musician, author, celebrity crush for stem-loving women around the world) has said: "Every single thing that you learn really just gives you more comfort.”

He was talking about taking the opportunity to learn any skill, any idea, at any time—embracing the notion that knowledge is power and that with knowledge comes freedom. And one of the freedoms most everyone seeks for their children is freedom from fear, real or imagined. The Darkest Dark is about just that: overcoming fear. It's also a love story, a promise, an inspiration.

It's the story of a boy, his love for space, and how that love overcomes his deepest fear: fear of the dark.

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