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Richard Wright and the Library Card

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As a young black man in the segregated South of the 1920s, Wright was hungry to explore new worlds through books, but was forbidden from borrowing them from the library. This touching account tells of his love of reading, and how his unwavering perseverance, along with the help of a co-worker, came together to make Richard's dream a reality

An inspirational story for children of all backgrounds, Richard Wright and the Library Card shares a poignant turning point in the life of a young man who became one of this country's most brilliant writers, the author of Native Son and Black Boy.

This book is the third in a series of biographies by William Miller, including Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree and Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery. All focus on important moments in the lives of these prominent African Americans.

32 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1997

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William Miller

362 books21 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Darla.
3,155 reviews447 followers
October 20, 2022
Every page was a ticket to freedom, to the place where he would always be free.

Books are the great equalizer -- provided there is equal access. When Richard Wright was a young boy working in Memphis, he asked a white coworker to help him get books from the library. His fictionalized conversation with the librarian is heartbreaking. He had to pretend he could not read so she would let him check books out for the man (bless you, Jim Falk) he worked with at the optician's office. Books transported Richard Wright out of the Jim Crow South and showed him he was not alone in his suffering. They also gave him hope. As you know, that young man not only read many more books. He wrote books of his own like "Native Son" which are still popular today.
Profile Image for Mississippi Library Commission.
389 reviews71 followers
October 12, 2015
The words he had read echoed in his ears, colored everything he saw. He wondered if he would act differently, if others would see how the books had changed him.

The meat of this picture book is pulled from an incident in Richard Wright's autobiography, Black Boy. We reread this book for the anniversary of Richard Wright's birth last month (September 4, 1908) and again marveled at the lovely adaptation. Denied books by the Memphis library's segregation policies, Wright borrows a library card from a white coworker and uses it to check out stacks of books. Solid introduction to one of Mississippi's most famous and enduring authors.
Profile Image for Malinda Faber.
6 reviews
September 25, 2016
Richard Wright and the Library Card is a biography that tells the story of internationally acclaimed American author Richard Wright, and his unwavering effort to gain access to library books as a young man during the Jim Crow era. While working his way to a new life in the northern United States, a white co-worker helped Richard, an African American, satiate his thirst for books by loaning Richard his own library card. The access to stories and knowledge forever changed Richard’s life.

Written for 4-8th grade readers, this excellently told story brings Richard Wright's experiences to life with vivid language and beautiful, painted illustrations. Through its poignant descriptions of Richard’s emotions throughout this time in his life, readers are given a window into the feelings and experiences of an African American young man in the southern United States during the middle of the 20th century. Readers will also gain historical lessons about race relations and society during that time as well. A reader will also have a fantastic opportunity to learn about and appreciate the ways in which a person can love to read and value books.

This book could be used to frame a classroom activity in which students share about a book they have read, or had read to them, that changed their understanding of another person or another group of people, the way reading about white people changed Richard Wright’s understanding of white people or the way reading this book could change someone’s understanding of African American people. This book could also be used to frame a classroom activity in which students share the top two reasons why they think reading is valuable. For those students who don’t like reading, they can share what they think are the top two reasons why people consider reading to be valuable. They could compare or contrast these answer with the reasons they learned that Richard Wright enjoyed reading so much.
Profile Image for Chantal.
21 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2014
Richard Wright and the Library Card (1997) by William Miller with colored pencil and acrylic art by Gregory Christie, is “a fictionalized account of an important episode from the life of Richard Wright” (Miller, 1997, Author’s Note). Central to this tale is a quest for self-empowerment, the determination of a black man to chart his own path during a time and in a place where the only road for a person of color was a dead end.

In a vein similar to that of Trisha’s in Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker, Richard’s early experiences of being read-to created within him a hunger that only books and reading could satiate.
In 1896, the incomparable, Paul Laurence Dunbar in a poem entitled, “We Wear the Mask,” spoke of a duality that members of the marginalized had to maintain—that is, to never let your intellect and aspirations unsettle those in power. Miller wrote about a similar experience for Wright, “As long as he kept his head down, as long as he began every sentence with “sir,” Richard was safe (Miller, 1997, n.p.).

But in the tradition of all of those who dared to escape the confines into which they were sometimes placed, young Richard made a way to access the literary trove intended to be beyond his reach.

Richard Wright and the Library Card is a heart-warming story of triumph in spite of challenges and a stark reminder that with a bit of hard work, all things are possible.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Profile Image for Barbara N. Hernandez.
22 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2018
Text-to-Self Connection: How does the story connect to your personal experiences or background?

This book broke my heart. As an avid reader myself, I often don't realize how accessible books are to me. I personally own over 100 books and continue to collect more regularly. This story reminded me that some people are not as lucky. Richard was so desperate for the need to read books that he risked his life to read them. I can't imagine the fear associated with asking for a library card knowing you are not allowed to read such books or the shame and embarrassment he may have felt pretending he was dumb and couldn't read only to be laughed at. My heart broke in that moment. To be denied such a desire for knowledge is appalling and to me, shows just how malicious and hurtful people can be towards one another all for the sake of keeping power. I can only hope that such a time will never come to pass again, but as we know, history is doomed to repeat itself if we are not capable of learning from the mistakes of the past.
12 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2014
This book, my goodness gracious this book is a powerful, moving story that would easily persuade any reader to continue to pursue reading. The trials and tribulations that the protagonist goes through hit a personal note with me and just drew me in to the story even more. The images seemed a minor note in the story, as if they were a backdrop in a play. No end pages, the book begins with a title page and a dedication page. Even though the story pertains to a young african-american male during a racist period of time, most readers would feel the struggles he is going through, as if they were in his place. Not only is the story well written, but the life lesson taught is something that everyone could use. The author's note is also helpful by giving the reader background information and other opportunities to read more stories about the main character. Overall this story would definitely become part of my classroom library.
Profile Image for Jana.
2,587 reviews35 followers
February 5, 2016
I shared this book with my fifth grade students and they enjoyed it. It was a fascinating story about a young man in the 1920s who wanted to read books from the library. Because he was a black man in the South, he wasn't allowed to get a library card. A caring coworker allowed him to use his library card. The paintings are so meaningful, they really capture the emotions that the author and readers felt as we lived this experience together.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,241 reviews9 followers
July 26, 2016
This is the sad and inspiring story of Richard Wright's first encounters with books and a library that was not open to him because of his skin color, but who got access via a white colleague's library card.
Profile Image for Kris.
2,858 reviews69 followers
March 24, 2020
Excellent, thought-provoking picture book that is an especially good reminder to librarians that we have not always been on the forefront of accessibility and social justice. We like to hold up libraries as paragons of virtue, but they were, and still are, inaccessible either by policy or geography, to some people. Library leaders, use this book and others like it to examine where your facility has progressed, and where there are still barriers to access.

Four stars only because I wasn't a huge fan of the art, which felt muddy to me.
Profile Image for Dominique *Paperbacks & Frybread*.
106 reviews23 followers
February 14, 2019
Such a great story! This is about an African American man during segregation, gaining access to the library through the help of someone unexpected. Such a beautiful story. I’ll be reading this to my kids over and over again.
25 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2018
Grades: 1st and up
Genre: Picture Book (Narrative Non-Fiction)

This is an excerpt taken from the Author’s autobiography and made into a picture book. During segregation, Richard Wright wanted to check out books from the library. He wasn’t allowed to because black people were not allowed to check out books at that time. This book marks the turning point in his life, when a white man helps him check out books. In our classroom, we used this book for teaching a strategy for making inferences. This story would also be great for teaching theme.
26 reviews1 follower
November 4, 2012
Grade/interest level: Primary/Upper Elementary (2nd-5th Grade)
Reading level: Lexile, 700L
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Main Characters: Richard Wright
Setting: The south of the United States, approximately around the time of the Great Migration
POV: Third person

This book is a fictionalized story about Richard Wright, well-known author of Black Boy. This book is about a story that Wright wrote about in his novel, however, some events are not entirely accurate as explained by the author at the end of the story. The book begins by making reference to Richard's grandparents who were slaves. We also learn that Richard comes from a poor family and grew up with little time or resources available for education. However, Richard has a strong yearning to be able to read and does learn to do so. Richard loves to read but due to both money and discrimination during this time period, books were difficult for Richard to obtain. Richard is unable to get a library card because of his skin color. Richard is fortunate enough to work with a white man who is understanding and accepting of Richard's desire to read. He allows Richard to use his library card and bring a note that says that the library books are for him, the white man, and not Richard, the young black man. Richard is thrilled and takes out books of substance written by famous authors. The books make Richard feel free and empowered and eventually Richard becomes one of the many to be a part of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North.

I would definitely consider using this book in my classroom. It provides an account of what it was like for a black man during this time who simply wanted to read. I also like the themes of reading, knowledge, and freedom within this story. I would use this story most likely within a civil rights unit, but it would also be useful within a unit centered around injustice or racism, which also tie into civil rights.
45 reviews1 follower
September 2, 2014
This inspiring, true story is about a boy named Richard Wright who is an African-American living in in the segregated south in the 1920’s.

He finds a love for words and for reading at a young age and is taught mostly by his mother at home because they are poor and can not afford much of Richard’s schooling. He grows up reading whatever he could find because he is denied the right to buy or borrow books.

When he turns seventeen he decides to get a job to try to earn enough money to move north and be free. He finds work in an optician’s office and finds a friend in one of his white co-workers, Mr. Falk, who agrees to help him get books to read. Richard borrows Mr. Falk’s library card and claims to be checking out books for him, when confronted by the librarian. When she doubts him, he says that he doesn’t even know how to read, to which she laughs and gives him the books.

He finds that he relates to the books and finds freedom in the words of Dickens, Tolstoy, and Stephen Crane. Wright soon is able to travel north and recalls that, “Every page was a ticket to freedom, to the place where he would always be free”.

Richard Wright and the Library Card is a great book for kids. It outlines civil rights in a way that is easy to understand and comprehend. The tone is serious but still has an aspect of innocence and is conveyed very poetically. Illustrations throughout the book are naturalistic and soft and tell the story well. The process of Wright trying to get a book is similar to him trying to get north to freedom, adding some metaphorical meaning in the book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
23 reviews
September 4, 2017
Richard Wright and the Library Card

"...the words he had read echoed in his ears, colored everything he saw. He wondered if he would act differently, if others would see how the books had changed him. Richard knew he would never be the same again"

Richard Wright and the Library Card is a story, based on an excerpt from Black Boy, about the main character's longing to read and yearning for freedom. Richard Wright is an African-American male working whatever odd jobs he can find. Richard secures a job in an optician's office and it is there that a white employee provides him with a library card. Richard is able to check out books under the guise of getting the books for his white employer.
This is a beautiful story about perseverance, how one man's ambition to be free is linked with the love of reading. Richard is willing to risk being mocked and laughed at in both the library and the optician's office as he prepares himself for a life of freedom in the North.
Author William Miller weaves an endearing tale that quickly allows the reader to believe in Richard Wright while at the same time being painfully reminded of what life was like for African-Americans living in the South.
This book would make a wonderful addition to any classroom library and would easily fit into curriculum relating to civil rights and the internal fight for freedom.
39 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2014
Richard dreams of reading real books; but when he finally learns to read, he cannot afford to buy books and the library doors are closed to him because he is black. He eventually convinces a man named Jim to let him use his library card. Jim is shocked at first by the powerful books that Richard checks out, but he smiles, impressed by Richard's skill and hunger for words.
This historical fiction story is an accurate portrayal of the hardships African-Americans faced after the civil war, especially when wanting to learn and integrate into society. Richard's job of cleaning a doctor's office represents the menial jobs that young men like him were given. The fact that many believed him to be illiterate also showed how, despite their freedom, they were still not considered equals with those around them.
The dark colors used in the illustrations convey the fear that Richard has for the white man. However, as he continues to read, bright colors such as yellow, orange, and green begin to appear, lightening the tone as Richard begins to free himself with knowledge. The pictures have little detail, allowing the reader's to focus on the words. This book truly inspires many to appreciate books and the knowledge and freedom that comes with them.
Profile Image for Amanda.
603 reviews3 followers
October 26, 2018
Honestly, I found this book a little bit slow, considering how genuinely compelling the subject is, but the pictures are beautiful and emotive, and since it made me aware of Richard Wright in the first place (which, in turn, turned me to seek out his own works), I still consider this a great children's book.
10 reviews
February 25, 2015
Richard Wright and the Library Card is about a young man named Richard Wright who grew up in racist times. All Wright wanted to do was read books. The problem was Wright could not afford books and was not allowed to have a library card. That all changed when his coworker Jim Faulk let him use his library card. Wright and Faulk form a friendship that nobody else understands. This book is also filled with beautiful illustrations that children will love to look at.

The themes in this book are tolerance and acceptance.

A way a teacher could incorporate this book into their classroom is take the students to the library and teach the students how to locate books. Discuss the rules of the library and how it is very important to follow the rules. Talk about the different resources available in the library other than books like music, magazines, and many other things. If the students do not already have a library card encourage them to sign up.
Profile Image for Christina Taylor, She-Her.
114 reviews6 followers
August 2, 2012
Richard Wright and the Library Card is a fictionalized account of a scene from Wright’s life. As a seventeen-year-old black male living in Memphesis, Tennessee in the 1920s, Richard Wright did not have access to the same opportunities—such as borrowing books from the library—as his white counterparts. Convinced that education was his ticket to freedom, Wright desperately wanted to gain access, and with the aid of a white co-worker he was able to do just that. Christie’s impressionistic illustrations in acrylic and colored pencil enhance Miller’s portrayal of this young man’s struggle to acquire knowledge in the face of segregation. Even though this depiction is not strictly accurate, it captures the spirit of the encounter. Moreover, this picturebook would pair nicely with Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, and the discrepancies can fuel a discussion regarding writer’s craft.
Profile Image for Mandy E.
200 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2015
My four-year old twins and I checked this book out from the library where it was featured in a "Celebrate Black History Month" display. This extraordinary book presents, in a way both visceral and central to the themes of Wright's own work, the daily fear and humiliation suffered by the people during the American apartheid. It also presents the idea of access to a library, which is often taken for granted, as a right to be valued, preserved and made available to all. After reading the book, the kids and I talked about these things, and I told them that Richard Wright later became an author that I admire very much, and whose books I own (all of them). This seemed to make the story all the more powerful to them, and their eyes were shining as they insisted on seeing the books and flipping through their pages.
14 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2013
This book is very inspiration to young readers. They may value and respect what they have. This book was based on true story about the author of Black Boy, Richard Wright. This book contains how an African American boy experienced, faced racism and oppression. The writer describes how Richard Wright eagerly wanted to read books, how he overcame his obstacles and became a writer. The author writes detail descriptions about the way a person obtains freedom and experiences the power of books. I could think about the meaning on freedom. Color of skin means nothing after Richard's mind opened and traveled through his readings. Teachers can use this book to introduce the lives of African Americans in the South during 1920s.
18 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2018
The first thing that caught my eye when I picked up this book were the pictures. The author used what it looks like to be water color. I was extremely impressed by it's presentation. My overall impression of this book was that it was applicable to our every day lives. Miller teaches the lesson that we should seek to find some level of understanding, to even those who are cruel to us. It taught that books can help change and shape people's minds. I liked that that the author made this book historically accurate. I also appreciated the growth of the character Richard, you saw him really mature as the book went on. I admired the flow and progression of the book and how it had good coherence. Overall, this book was really well done.
Profile Image for Matthew.
2,757 reviews43 followers
April 5, 2013
This was a great biographical account of Richad Wright, the author, during his time working for a optical company and his endeavor to gain access to the public library, off limits to him because of his skin color. It is an inspiring story, despite the general attitude of the white people that Richard encounters. Jim Falk is the white co-worker that allows him to access the library through a little trickery, claiming that Richard is checking out books for him because he's too busy to do it himself. I really liked this story and I hope that others feel the same way about the story because it really deserves the acclaim.
35 reviews
August 27, 2012
It wasn't until after I read this book that I realized it was based on true events experienced by a famous author named Richard Wright, which made it all the more powerful. The painted illustrations were very nice, and the book brought to life the reality of America's dark past; that African Americans were very discriminated, and often couldn't get ahold of simple things such as books to read. This heart warming story about an underprivileged boy who is blessed with the rare opportunity to read will be sure to remind children of how lucky they are to be able to read when they please, and how beneficial it can be to their everyday lives.
Profile Image for Michelle.
298 reviews32 followers
March 10, 2013
This is a wonderful picture book telling the story of author Richard Wright and what he had to go through to obtain books in the segregated South. Admittedly some portions are fictionalized for the sake of the story but it does open a reader's eyes further to the scope of segregation's impact. Wright wanted to read to educate himself but was not permitted to use the public library. A sympathetic white coworker loaned his card to Wright and sent a note with it that the books were for him and that Wright was just picking them up. It's a story of the power of determination when it meets understanding.
Profile Image for Cara Byrne.
3,045 reviews18 followers
December 1, 2015
"Richard loved the sound of words. He loved the stories his mother told about the farm where she grew up" [...] "With the light of the sun coming through the window, Richard put down the book. He felt sleepy, but the words he had read echoed in his ears, colored everything he saw. He wondered if he would act differently, if others would see how the books had changed him. Richard knew he would never be the same again"

While these are some of my absolute favorites of Christies' illustrations, Miller's story is good, but lacking from other picture book biographies of great African American writers and artists.
1,280 reviews2 followers
April 19, 2018
Artwork in this book is rendered in an impressionist style with acrylics. (Pure guessing on my part, I really don't know.)
For me, the art sort of softened the blow of the actual story which is a man - a grown man - being told he can't read the books in the library. Racism is one of the stupider aspects that many humans choose to participate in.
I appreciated the boss who helped Mr. Wright out. A shining light in an otherwise stupid world.

I tried reading Native Son while in high school. It was a bit beyond me at the time and I didn't make it through the book. I'll have to try again soon.
Profile Image for Colleen Vincent.
66 reviews2 followers
June 5, 2010
This is a fictionalized account of a story Richard Wright told in his autobiography Black Boy. Richard Wright, an important African-American author of the international bestseller Native Son, born in 1908, tells the story of how he gained access to the books at the public library through a co-worker. Wright, denied access to the books because he was black, had a thirst for learning and reading and was determined to satisfy that thirst. This story tells how he worked around racist laws to get what he needed, and how important access to literature and information is for all people.
Profile Image for Gmr.
1,186 reviews
August 23, 2010
Richard Wright was a young black man with the desire to read. The problem? Due to the times, he was not permitted to use the local library...until one day a man with an open mind lent him a helping hand. A great story that shows the power of reading not only over the imagination and throughout history, but also as a means of having the ability and confidence to reach for your dreams. Recommended for new readers of all ages as well as those that simply enjoy reveling in the wonder and joy that is reading....
Profile Image for Jordan Santoro.
27 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2012
This book is a reminder to not only recognize the power of books, but also not to take anything for granted. Richard's hunger for reading and books is inspiring. This well-written story addresses the issue of racism and civil rights, and the unfair and unfortunate set-backs Richard faces because of the color of his skin (ironic, as today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day). William Miller took a real-life issue and turned it into an easy-to-follow story that speaks to readers of any age and skin color.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews

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