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Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

Review

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

If you like WHO WAS MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.? by Bonnie Bader or seek books depicting African-American leaders such as in TWELVE DAYS IN MAY: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner, pick up FACING FREDERICK: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden.

Bolden (author of CROSSING EBENEZER CREEK) has written a phenomenal biography on abolitionist and famed orator Frederick Douglass. Of course, he is known for more than those two qualities as Bolden highlights in her book. He wrote three autobiographies, edited an influential black newspaper, was a woman’s rights activist and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive writer; Douglass truly embodied “a monumental American man.” He was a significant figure amidst the nation’s struggle between freedom and slavery. He was highly admirable as Douglass remained tireless in seeking to improve the lives of African-Americans until the end of his life. This narrative about a well-known figure feels fresh due to Bolden’s skilled storytelling.

"This narrative about a well-known figure feels fresh due to Bolden’s skilled storytelling....Not only is it both entertaining and informative, but Bolden's book takes care to make sure readers can easily understand what is going on."

Bolden captures this sentiment by launching the reader’s journey at the beginning of Douglass’ career. Rather than go the traditional route and provide readers with a straightforward chronological account, Bolden begins Douglass’s story with his first speaking engagement and the publishing of his autobiography. Throughout the book, other creative liberties are taken --- such as Bolden’s choice to make this book a mix between a chapter book and a picture book. She utilizes images to depict historical figures and events, and highlights quotes from Douglass’ works by enlarging and differentiating the style of the font. Sometimes quotes took up a quarter of a page.

Stylistically, the book went above and beyond. The book is designed beautifully with cream-colored pages, intricate red borders and many illustrations. The photos were plentiful and I believe this was done purposefully as Bolden emphasized Douglass’ love of photographs. Bolden includes not only photos of Douglass, but also of his family and many others with whom he interacted. She provides details about the type of photograph as well as the subject. In fact, Douglass is believed to be the most photographed man of the 19th century (when I learned this I was totally taken aback as I believed that achievement would belong to some rich white man). Also, the cover is just gorgeous and I am glad I can put this on my bookshelf.  FACING FREDERICK: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man is simply one of those well-displayed novels regardless of content.

Bolden’s writing is detailed and sophisticated, as evident in the flow of her words. She uses the right amount of narration and evidence. This balance is done so phenomenally well that I gave her the title of “Neil Degrasse Tyson of nonfiction novels.” Not only is it both entertaining and informative, but Bolden's book takes care to make sure readers can easily understand what is going on. Her writing is best exemplified on page 73:

“After Clay’s compromise passed in September 1850, thousands of blacks --- freeborn, freed, and self-emancipated --- fled the States, most for Canada. This exodus surely led to a spike in Frederick’s Underground Railroad work. He had been serving as a conductor and stationmaster since her moved to Rochester, about a hundred miles east from St. Catherines in Canada West (present-day Ontario). Anna was on duty, too. As Rosetta remembered, she was ‘called up at all hours of the night, cold or hot as the case maybe, to prepare supper for a hungry lot of fleeing humanity.’”

This book would be great for middle school and even high school libraries. Although it was an easy read, it did not hinder my enjoyment, and I learned a substantial amount of information about Douglass. Bolden’s back matter was extensive, including a timeline, detailed chapter notes, selected sources and index and photo credits. It is no wonder that this book was a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner. I easily give this book five stars.

Reviewed by Melat E., Teen Board Member on February 26, 2018

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man
by Tonya Bolden