Bread For Words – PPBF, and Black History Month

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Title: Bread For Words, A Frederick Douglass Story

Author: Shana Keller

Illustrator: Kayla Stark

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2020

Ages: 4-8

32 pages. 

Genre: biography

Themes: African Americans, slavery, biography, frederick douglass, literacy. freedom, perseverance


I know where I was born, not when. It was Tuckahoe, Maryland.


Frederick Douglass knew where he was born but not when. He knew his grandmother but not his father. And as a young child, there were other questions, such as Why am I a slave? Answers to those questions might have eluded him but Douglass did know for certain that learning to read and to write would be the first step in his quest for freedom and his fight for equality. Told from first-person perspective, this picture-book biography draws from the real-life experiences of a young Frederick Douglass and his attempts to learn how to read and write.

Why I like this book:

Author Shana Keller explains that she used bold text to indicate direct quotes from Douglass’ autobiography in the text, which adds to the authentic feel and makes me want to read Douglass’ autobiography.

“My hunger was different than theirs.” Reading about Frederick Douglass’s deep yearning for literacy is inspiring, and how he took every opportunity to learn to read and write as he recognized that those skills were the first stop out of bondage.

“From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. If I learned to read, I could loosen the changes of bondage.”

Frederick’s jobs including escorting young master Thomas to school and running errands for the family. When he met some hungry boys on the streets, he remembered how it felt to be hungry and he came up with a plan. Frederick copied letters he saw at the shipyard and wrote them on fences, brick walls, and the pavement. He copied letters from Thomas’s discarded copybooks.

Finally, after seven years, he taught himself how to read. Writing in the first person, and focusing on Frederick’s early year’s and passion to learn his ABC’s make this book very accessible to young readers and a terrific inclusion to Black History Month in elementary school. Douglass’ ingenuity, intelligence and determination to persevere are inspiring, and this seems a great entry point to a larger discussion of his life and his work as an abolitionist. It also shows the importance and power of education, and how enforced ignorance is used as a means of oppression. Douglass’ realized this as at a young age, and because he did and actively sought literacy, he changed history.

Kayla Stark, the illustrator, does a great job in illustrating well this historical period.

This inspirational book ends with a summary of Frederick Douglass’ life and why Ms. Keller chose to write the book as she did. The lyrical title comes from how Douglass “paid” other children to teach him. He realized that the young boys on the street looked around his age and, they also looked hungry. Fredrick began to bring a book with him and extra bread. Slowly he started to learn the letters in the books until he could read and write. 


This is a perfect book for any historical unit or celebration of Black History Month, and with older children can be a great springboard to talk about abolitionism.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

This entry was posted in Black history Month, Children's literature, Perfect Picture Book Friday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bread For Words – PPBF, and Black History Month

  1. Jilanne F Hoffmann says:

    I have not yet read this book, and will add it to my hold list. Thanks for the rec, Joanna!

    For some reason, I find myself wondering about the significance of the red-winged blackbird in the window behind the boy on the cover.

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