The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

“The Oldest Student” tells the inspiring story of a centenarian who finally found the time to learn.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora. Schwarts & Wade, 2020, 32 pages.

Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 4-8

Recommended for: ages 4-10

Whenever young Mary Walker was tired, she would shield her eyes from the sun and watch the swallow-tailed kites dip and soar above the trees. That must be what it’s like to be free, she thought.

Born a slave in 1848, Mary’s early life was nothing but work, work, work.  Even after emancipation, there was no time for anything but work, just to provide shelter and food. “One day Mary met a group of evangelists on the roadside. A woman with soft wrinkles in her kindly face placed a big, beautiful Bible in Mary’s hands, and told her, ‘Your civil rights are in these pages.’” Mary didn’t know what that meant, but her first perusal of those pages full of words offered her a vision: someday she was going to read those words. But there never seemed to be time, through two marriages, three sons, and long hours with only one day off every week. But she held on to that Bible, until she was too old to work and moved to a retirement home. One day she heard about a reading class in her building and knew it was time. She was 114 years old. This inspiring story of a humble yet determined woman shows where real civil rights begin. Photos on the end papers complement the collage illustrations throughout.

Overall rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value 5
  • Artistic/value: 4

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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