Not all that long ago, a college student was very excited to find a picture book biography of an amazing singer completely new to the student. The book was When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic); the singer was Marian Anderson.
This is a moving book, one that introduces Marian first as a child who sang in a church choir who grows up to become a woman with an extraordinary voice — and someone who was largely unknown in her home country for no other reason than she was an African American.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, will mark 70 years since Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.; 70 years since she was denied a performance at the DAR Constitution Hall. And this Sunday there will be a concert at the Lincoln Memorial to remember Marian Anderson’s amazing, operatic voice as well as what she helped the country achieve.
Several things struck me about the student who discovered Anderson through a children’s book. Obviously books are significant in bringing history alive again and again for each reader. And, a good children’s book is simply a good book that can be accessed by children. But it made me also remember that trade books — books that aren’t textbooks — play a key role in education.
Trade books introduce subjects and ideas that may be excluded from textbooks because there isn’t enough space to tell that story or because textbook buyers may find the subject potentially controversial.
Whatever the reason, it seems that the college student who hadn’t met Marian Anderson until she read What Marian Sang was very fortunate indeed; and so are the children with whom she works now.