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Book Review: Lift Ev'ry Voice by Lillian M. Whitlow

Abigail Benjamin

Lift Ev'ry Voice is a treasury of 75 well-written short biographies about famous African-Americans by retired school teacher, Lillian M. Whitlow. The choice of role models included in Lift Ev-ry Voice is wide and deep.  This collection contains well known favorites such as Malcom X, Louis Armstrong, and Maya Angelou. Whitlow also includes Augustine Tolton, the first black Roman Catholic priest in America, the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Jacob Lawrence, a famous painter, and Queen Bess, a daredevil aviator.

 As a homeschool teacher, I loved having instant access to so many heroes from different fields of influence. For example, I love Ethel Waters' recording of "His Eye is On the Sparrow." Reading Whitlow's inspiring biography outloud plus showing a Youtube video of Waters' deeply felt hymn could create an instant history lesson.  Lift Ev'ry Voice is an inspiring reference book that makes teaching history fun and easy. 

Whitlow writes honestly about the sexual abuse that many African-American Artists overcame in their childhood. While not the usual fare for Elementary School and Middle School Students, I found myself respecting Whitlow's decision to include the more "unpretty" parts of history. The most important thing we can do for students is to let them know that heroes overcome great odds. I think the benefit of having one hurting child feel more hopeful about her future is worth the risk of selling less books to concerned teachers. I'd encourage any Catholic Mom who might be squeasmish about Whitlow's approach to still buy this book and read the parts they are comfortable with outloud to their children.  Whitlow is a true historian and the depth of her scholarship isn't easily replicated by picture books from the public library.

In honor of Black History month, treat your home library to a copy of Lift Ev'ry Voice!