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The Picture Book Buzz

Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

What a week! When I arranged for Patricia's interview and this #PPBF post in January, I had no way of knowing how timely and relevant this book would be.

I can only imagine how frustrated and sad Ella Josephine Baker would be if she could see our country now. Sad that despite some progress, there is still so far to go. Frustrated that so many years later, we are still "fighting for the freedom of the human spirit." Though, the increasing number and determination of the multi-racial protesters hopefully offers a glimmer of hope that we may see long-overdue, real change occur.

I have a sneak peek for you of a book which highlights a dedicated, lesser known activist who fought her whole life to educate all African Americans about freedom, voting, and their civil rights, regardless of their social status or gender. It releases June 9th.

Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker

Author: Patricia Hruby Powell

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (2020)

Ages: 4-8



Civil Rights, freedom, grassroot movements, and making a difference


“What do you hope to accomplish?” asked Ella Baker’s granddaddy when she was still a child. Her mother provided the answer: “Lift as you climb.” Long before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, Ella Baker worked to lift others up by fighting racial injustice and empowering poor African Americans to stand up for their rights. Her dedication and grassroots work in many communities made her a valuable ally for leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and she has been ranked as one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement. In the 1960s she worked to register voters and organize sit-ins, and she became a teacher and mentor to many young activists. Caldecott Honor winner R. Gregory Christie’s powerful pictures pair with Sibert Honor winner Patricia Hruby Powell’s poignant words to paint a vivid portrait of the fight for the freedom of the human spirit.

Opening Lines:

Under a bright North Carolina sun

Ella rode to church

with Granddaddy

and Mama.

When Granddaddy Mitchell stood to preach

Ella sat in the deacon’s chair

legs ruler straight

ears soaking up his strong voice.

He preached

Give to others.

He preached

Join together.

He spoke

Freedom. He asked

What do you hope to accomplish?

What I liked about this book:

Written in a lyrically, poetic verse, Patricia Hruby Powell, explores how Ella Baker took the lessons she learned from her grandfather - "What do you hope to accomplish?" - and her mother - "Lift as you climb" - and used them to help others gain the right to vote and fight for their civil rights.

R. Gregory Christie's colorful, folk-art illustrations beautifully blend with and enhance the story. On her mother's knee, Ella learned the stories of her grandparents' struggles, from slavery to owning their farm. She learned to help her neighbors and rise together as a community.

Text © Patricia Hruby Powell, 2020. Image © R. Gregory Christie, 2020.

After college, she helped people fight for jobs and joined the NAACP. Although the NAACP "focused on finding members in the Negro elite— preachers, doctors, businessmen," Ella travelled the South, attending churches and making friends with everyday people. She listened to their hopes for equal pay, fair treatment, and use of facilities. Ella encouraged people to register and to work together, asking everyone "What do you hope to accomplish?"

Text © Patricia Hruby Powell, 2020. Image © R. Gregory Christie, 2020.

She challenged Martin Luther King and the other preachers, who worked from the top down, suggesting that should listen to and empower the middle class, the women, and the poor. Dr. King appointed her head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to register voters and stand up for their rights. Listening and challenging them to reach and fight for their dreams, Ella worked with the women and advised the students staging sit-ins and riding busses.

Text © Patricia Hruby Powell, 2020. Image © R. Gregory Christie, 2020.

Powell weaves this thread of Ella listening, encouraging, and lifting the everyday people throughout the book. She uses the refrains, "What do you hope to accomplish?" "Lift as you climb," and "She LISTENED" very judiciously and effectively. Powell ends the book with a very poignant statement by Ella Baker - "The struggle for rights didn’t start yesterday and has to continue until it is won." The backmatter includes a detailed author’s note with additional information Ella Baker, a glossary of the organizations and their acronyms, a timeline of her life, and a bibliography. This is a powerful biography of a caring and determined unsung hero, a woman who played a key role in the fight for civil rights.


- listen to Patricia Hruby Powell read Lift As You Climb (

- read Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney. What are some similarities and difference in the ways they describe the same events?

- check out The Brown Bookshelf for a recording of the KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives Rally organized by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds. As well as their incredible list of resources.

- read other books about race, racism and resistance and listen.

If you missed the interview of Patricia Hruby Powell on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Book Launch:

Virtual Book Launch party -premieres June 10, Wednesday at 3:30 pm CST.

It will be a brief (15 minute) program which will remain on YouTube for viewing.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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