Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker

h1 July 29th, 2020 by jules

(Click image to see spread in its entirety)


I’ve some spreads today from Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker (Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2020), written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. This is a picture book biography of civil rights activist Ella Baker, who taught countless African Americans—but particularly those not in the elite or middle class—about their voting rights and how to exert their invididual voices in the name of freedom. And, as Powell writes in the book’s closing note, “because she worked behind the scenes and didn’t care about the spotlight, nor believed in following a charismatic figure or being followed, she is less known than she should be.”

The book opens with Ella as a child, listening to her Granddaddy preach. It was from him that the question was posed: “What do you hope to accomplish?” This is a phrase repeated throughout the book as we follow Ella’s life. We stay with Ella’s childhood in North Carolina for about four spreads; she was a girl who looked out for her neighbors.

After college and moving to New York City, Ella worked toward justice, getting a job with the NAACP and making friends with “everyday people,” asking them: What do you hope to accomplish? She made speeches across the South; worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, even challenging him at times; and advised and worked with those who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee (SNCC). She worked tirelessly to inspire others, often reminding themselves to “lift as you climb,” advice her Mama had once given her. (Note: The word “Negroes” is used throughout the book, which is certainly true to the time period covered here. Some students may need some context around the use of that word, as it’s not covered in the book’s backmatter.)

Powell reverently lays out Baker’s life in a flowing, rhythmic free verse style, accentuating her urgent desire to make change but not shine in the spotlight. Christie’s folk-art-esque illustrations feature vivid colors that pop off the page — pink, honey, and teal shades steal the show. Baker’s repeated question to those she meets (and the one she asks of herself)—”What do you hope to accomplish?”— is set in a different, larger font. An Author’s Note provides even more details about Baker’s life, as well as additional information about the many organizations she worked with — the Young Negroes Cooperative League; the Works Progress Administration; the NAACP; the YWCA; SCLC; and SNCC. Also included is a timeline of her life; a bibliography; and a list of interviews and oral histories.

Here are some spreads so that, as always, the art and text can do the talking. …


“When Granddaddy Mitchell stood to preach
Ellsa sat in the deacon’s chair
legs ruler straight
ears soaking up his strong voice. …”

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“She fought for rights.
She fought for her people. …”

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“She challenged Reverend King with her ideas. …”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“Then something amazing happened. …”
(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


“She advised them—
Lift as you climb.”

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


* * * * * * *

LIFT AS YOU CLIMB: THE STORY OF ELLA BAKER. Text copyright © 2020 by Patricia Hruby Powell. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by R. Gregory Christie and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, New York.

One comment to “Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker

  1. Ooh – love everything about this. The colors and the sort of paper-doll like effect of the artwork is just really great.

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