My third choice for this picture book month is nonfiction with a biography of one of the first African American congressmen. Chris Barton introduces The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch with the captivating paragraph, “John Roy Lynch had an Irish father and an enslaved mother. By the law of the South before the Civil War, that made John Roy and his brother half Irish and all slave.” In the first painting, Don Tate captures the setting in beautiful pastel colors with the family of four in the foreground echoing this sense of foreboding.
The father’s plan to buy his wife and children ends when he dies while John Roy is still a toddler. History is skillfully woven into John Roy’s story through the Civil War, emancipation, and Lincoln’s assassination. The clever way John Roy figures out how to get an education, his growing interest in politics even before he is old enough to vote, and his eventual election to the Mississippi House of Representatives and then to the US House of Representatives makes for a feel-good success story. It is tempered by the dark side of other Mississippi voices. Tate’s paintings enhance the emotions of the story whether they rise from discouragement, humor, or victory.
Back matter that includes a Historical Note, Timeline, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, maps, and further reading suggestions take the book beyond the ordinary picture book age and make it a good discussion tool for parents and teachers to talk about justice. It is my hope that these two young grandsons will absorb the meaning in Barton’s last quote from John Roy Lynch, “When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this beautiful land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.”