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What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

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Congresswoman Barbara Jordan had a big, bold, confident voice—and she knew how to use it! Learn all about her career in this picture book biography of the lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights leader.

Even as a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan stood out for her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It was a voice that made people sit up, stand up, and take notice.

So what do you do with a voice like that?

Barbara took her voice to places few African American women had been in the 1960s: first law school, then the Texas state senate, then up to the United States congress. Throughout her career, she persevered through adversity to give voice to the voiceless and to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice.

48 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2018

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About the author

Chris Barton

27 books78 followers
I'm the author of picture books including bestseller SHARK VS. TRAIN, Sibert Honor-winning THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS, and WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON'S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS, which has been included on 21 state reading lists.


My new books include MOVING FORWARD: FROM SPACE-AGE RIDES TO CIVIL RIGHTS SIT-INS WITH AIRMAN ALTON YATES (illustrated by Steffi Walthall; a School Library Journal Best Book of 2022) and GLITTER EVERYWHERE! WHERE IT CAME FROM, WHERE IT'S FOUND & WHERE IT'S GOING (illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat; June 2023).

I visit schools by the score and also love speaking to professional gatherings of librarians, educators, and fellow writers.

I'm married to middle-grade/YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (WORSER, HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR). Jennifer and I have four adult children and one dog, and we co-host the children’s literature video series “This One’s Dedicated to…” in which we talk with other authors and illustrators about the dedications they’ve written for their books.

Jennifer and I live in Austin, where I serve as a council member of the Texas Institute of Letters, a 501(c)(3) non-profit honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement.

For more information about me, please visit www.chrisbarton.info.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 172 reviews
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,931 reviews685 followers
February 5, 2022
Excellent introduction to the life of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. As she fought her way into politics it is amazing to me how little support she was given by the system. A central question is raised here: at what point do you leave an organization that has no intention of supporting you as an individual? A question that still needs to be answered.
Profile Image for Alia.
115 reviews11 followers
July 21, 2018
What an excellent book & tribute to Barbara Jordan. Barton’s clear and honest writing paired with Holmes’ soulful & layered illustrations make this one a winner. I really enjoyed learning about Ms. Jordan, esp since I didn’t know much about her until reading this excellent non-fiction book.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,827 reviews283 followers
June 18, 2020
Chris Barton tells the story of the amazing Barbara Jordan, born with a commanding voice that mesmerized the nation. She became a lawyer, and then a congresswoman, and a teacher. Many said, had Jordan not suffered ill health, that she would have risen high in the political world, maybe as a senator, or on the Supreme Court or even as vice-president. Barbara Jordan was a legend in her time who influenced many with her powerful voice and strong sense of values.
Profile Image for Lorie Barber.
557 reviews36 followers
November 17, 2018
Extraordinary, in both story and illustrations. I learned so much. Ms. Jordan’s story is singular, and can galvanize ALL generations to lift their voices in support of those who can’t, or those who might be too afraid.
Without a doubt, both a recurring #classroombookaday, especially for our literacy unit on advocacy, and a contender for the 2018 Caldecott. I loved every page.
Profile Image for Dee Dee G.
505 reviews7 followers
September 23, 2019
Beautiful illustrations. Nice introduction to Barbara Jordan for young readers.
Profile Image for Kris.
2,935 reviews70 followers
July 30, 2020
I knew who Barbara Jordan was, but I also lived in Texas for a few years while she was still alive, so I have an unfair advantage. This is a great introduction to her. It covered quite a few of the major milestones of her life, and the art is great, but I really wish there had been more actual pictures of her worked into the art, or included with the author's note. Particularly since this is meant for children, I think it would have helped cement the fact that Jordan was a real person who actually existed, and not just someone in a book.
Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 0 books84 followers
September 7, 2018
Barbara Jordan was a dynamic American leader during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s. As a Congresswoman and later as a respected professor, she was a fearless advocate for marginalized individuals and populations, and she demanded ethical behavior from those entrusted with the reins of government.

I clearly remember Barbara Jordan from my childhood. My dad was fascinated with her and called me to the television whenever she was on. Her voice was not like anyone else’s. Stentorian comes to mind as an appropriate adjective, but it falls short of capturing Jordan’s humanity and emotion. She was regal, wise, and humble, all at the same time.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is the awe-inspiring new picture book biography from Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes that is worthy of its subject.

Chris Barton is a master of creating voice in picture books, in this case, an engaging narrative voice that tells Jordan’s story in a conversational tone which lends itself to reading aloud. The text includes Barbara Jordan’s big ideas sprawled across big pages in colorful words with the primary narration in smaller font. Barton tells Jordan’s story beginning with her growing up in Texas, including a reference to Phillis Wheatley High School, Jordan’s alma mater. (Phillis Wheatley was an 18th Century American slave whose poetry was widely read in the colonial era. As an African-American voice in her own right, Wheatley can be considered a forebearer of Barbara Jordan.) Young Barbara decides to pursue a career in law and elective office at the state level and eventually becomes a member of the United States Congress. Jordan’s final years are spent back in Texas as a passionate professor whose battle with multiple sclerosis does not diminish her popularity or her ability to “raise a ruckus.”

Barbara Jordan’s voice is almost a separate character in this story as Barton explores its many facets. Barbara has a powerful physical voice, the unique way that language sounds coming from her mouth. What do you do with a voice like that? She is also blessed with a strong internal voice, a conscience that drives her to pursue public good. What do you do with a voice like that? And when Barbara, or any citizen, combines her individual voice with that of other like-minded citizens, a powerful vox populi can emerge. And what do you do with a voice like that! Clearly, the title is an integral part of the story with a meaning that changes depending on which word or words are emphasized.

The rich Ekua Holmes artwork harmonizes with Barton’s text to capture Barbara Jordan’s paradoxical straightforward complexity through vivid collages that make effective use of the book’s large pages. The picture backgrounds are especially interesting. Some are mysteries, some are dazzling; others are plain. The effect is to show Jordan in action and speaking out regardless of the constantly changing contexts of her time: “She shone like a bright light in a dark space.”

The design of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? continues with helpful back matter including a thorough timeline and a touching “Author’s Note” from Chris Barton.

This book includes just one complete Barbara Jordan quote, and it booms through in powerful contrast to the softer narrative voice. In 1974, Congresswoman Jordan spoke out against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal: “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” Three large red words present that page’s big idea: “The president went.”

What do you do with a voice like that? An inspirational answer to the title’s question appears on the book’s final pages as a young girl is shown visiting one of the Barbara Jordan statues in Texas. Is Barbara Jordan still relevant? Oh, yes. Thanks to Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes, she will now reach a new generation.

This review appeared on my What's Not Wrong? blog in slightly different form.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
March 12, 2019
The title of this impressive biography of Congressman Barbara Jordan brings to mind nonfiction writer and illustrator Steve Jenkins' beloved What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? Of course, it covers very different subject matter since it follows the formative years and political career--I'd almost prefer to say career of service, given the negative connotations now associated with many politicians--of this Texas native. The mixed media illustrations are filled with meaningful words and images and are layered so that readers feel completely immersed in Jordan's life and times. Here is an example of a black woman with oratory talent who turned that ability into making a difference in the world for those that had few others to speak for them. Although it took her three attempts to win public office, she eventually succeeded, being elected as a state senator in Texas and then to Congress as a representative of her state. I loved how the author wove in personal details about her struggles in her law classes, her decision to make changes from inside the system, her teaching, and her health issues as she dealt with multiple sclerosis. The book's last lines just might inspire others today to speak out and use their voices for good just as she did. I finished the book quite impressed, inspired, and reminded that one voice, one strong and determined voice, can make a difference and must be heard. There is an Author's Note that provides additional information about Barbara Jordan and a timeline covering her birth in 1936 to her death in 1996. I was pleased to see the timeline mentions her mentoring from President LBJ and her loving relationship with another woman as well as how she tried to keep her health struggles a secret for a time. This one is well-deserving of its Orbis Pictus honor distinction. And yes, as another reviewer mentioned, I wonder what the world might be like with Barbara Jordan still in it. Where, oh, where are the Barbara Jordans of today, willing to stand up against those in power who seem to ignore those in need or don't play fair? Maybe one of them is reading this book and will find the courage to stand up against what's wrong.
Profile Image for Laura Giessler.
1,016 reviews
January 31, 2019
What a fantastic bio of Barbara Jordan! The text is informative, and the varied font sizes and colors help to highlight key ideas. The illustrations are beautiful and engaging, making Barbara and her times "real" to the reader. The timeline in the back is excellent, full of important quotes and events in her life. I was especially inspired by some words that she spoke at the DNC, calling for an environment "which is characterized by a devotion to the public interest, public service, tolerance, and love. Love. Love. Love." The author recommends two speeches at the end to listen to, if you want to truly hear her voice. I was amazed when I realized that she passed away at age 59, already accomplishing so much, despite challenges including MS. Thankful for her role in the Voting Rights Act, and I wish that we hadn't moved backwards with that. What a remarkable woman!
376 reviews1 follower
January 18, 2019
This extraordinary book entitled: What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Illustrations by Ekua Holmes, whose book "Voice of Freedom" about Fannie Lou Hamer won a Caldecott Honor Award are again so striking and enhance this story of one of my heroines. Hopefully she will be nominated again for these bold pictures that are in keeping with the personality of this great woman.
Profile Image for Terry.
3,789 reviews51 followers
September 15, 2018
Wow. Just wow. What Do You Do With a Voice Like That is now on my shortlist of must-read nonfiction for young readers. Not only have I read it several times, I have also just sat back and enjoyed the illustrations.

Why this is a book
Profile Image for Madeline.
10 reviews
June 25, 2018
This book is a beauty! The illustrations are amazing and I love the author’s note Nd back matter at the end. Readers will be inspired while learning about Barbara Jordan and what she accomplished in her life, and will walk away inspired to make their voices heard.
52 reviews
February 9, 2019
I can’t wait to read this with my sons. A great introduction to Barbara Jordan with beautiful illustrations by Ekua Holmes.
Profile Image for Michelle.
311 reviews14 followers
November 19, 2018
Chris Barton (author), Ekua Holmes (illustrator)
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
Beach Lane Books
Hardcover, 978-1-4814-6561-8 (also available as an e-book), 48 pgs., $17.99
September 25, 2018

"When Barbara Jordan talked, we listened.” —Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton

The late Honorable Barbara Jordan grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward. “She may have looked like other kids … acted like other kids,” Chris Barton writes. “But she sure didn’t sound like other kids. Not with that voice of hers.”

Y’all remember that voice, yes? Sounded like the voice of God, deep and rich, sounded like the voice of moral authority, the voice of profoundly felt convictions. “That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice,” in Barton’s words. “It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice.”

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is the new picture book from Austinite Chris Barton, author of the best-selling Shark vs. Train, Sibert Honor–winning The Day-Glo Brothers, and Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List books The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (2016–17) and Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (2017–18).

When I spoke with Barton a few weeks ago, he called Jordan “a true Texas hero” whose career in the Texas Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and on the faculty of the LBJ School of Public Affairs “set a shining example of how to take a natural gift and put it to use for the benefit of one’s community, state, and nation.”

The phrase “What do you do with a voice like that?” is a refrain throughout the book.

“First you give that voice something to say.” Barton writes that Jordan began with reciting poetry in church, memorizing speeches for school, and entering — and winning — oratory contests. When an African American lawyer visited Jordan’s high school to speak to the students, Jordan found her calling.

“You give it more knowledge to work with.” Jordan graduated from college and law school.

“In 1960, America was not as free or as fair a place as it could be,” Barton writes. “Barbara believed that politics could change that.” One night when a scheduled speaker at a political event wasn’t able to attend, Jordan spoke instead. The audience was inspired and Jordan, finally, “knew just what to do with a voice like that.” She ran for office.

Listening to Jordan speak about President Nixon and Watergate from her position on the House judiciary committee in 1974 gives me chill bumps every time I hear it. Y’all remember, yes? “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”

As Barton writes, “The president, Barbara said, must go. The president went.” What a spectacular use of that voice in service to a nation.

Ekua Holmes is a fine artist and illustrator who lives not far from where Jordan attended law school at Boston University. Her debut picture book, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, won multiple awards, including a Caldecott Medal. Holmes was influenced early on by what she saw as a lack of positive images of African Americans and believes that art can help right that wrong. In her collages, she layers newspaper, photos, fabric, and other materials, to create compositions saturated in color and infused with personality.

What Do You do with a Voice Like That? is recommended for ages four to eight, grades preschool through third. The concepts are sophisticated but in Barton’s hands understandable, engaging, and inspiring for youngsters. I will pass this beautiful book along to my grandsons so they can learn, free of simple-minded jingoism, what it means to be a patriot.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.
Profile Image for Ivy Armitage.
24 reviews
April 20, 2019
As part of a Social Studies crossover on characteristics of a good leader, I selected the following Twin Text.
Nonfiction book- What Do You Do With A Voice Like That? The Story Of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton.
Fiction book- Remarkably YOU by Pat Zietlow Miller.
I chose to pair these two books because they share the common theme of people using their own strengths and talents to make a difference. In the nonfiction book about Barbara Jordan the title, What Do You Do With A Voice Like That, is a question that is repeatedly asked throughout the book. It refers to her voice and how her bold, loud voice helped her become a strong political leader. In the book Remarkably YOU, it states, “The world needs your voice and the gifts that you bring.” This extends the message of Barbara Jordan becoming a college teacher later in her life and sharing her gift with others to encourage them to use their own voice to make a difference. Both books encourage and send the message to go after your passion like Barabra did; to find what you love and what your good at. Remarkably YOU has a line that is used more than once. It states “You could change the world” which is exactly what Barbara Jordan did, first as a state senator and then a U.S. Congresswoman. To bridge the two text, I would use the Webbing activity. With this type of graphic organizer students can brainstorm characteristics of a good leader. Used as a multi-step activity I could activate prior knowledge by having students make a list of leadership characteristics. (whole group activity) Then, after reading Remarkably YOU, add to that list based on characteristics from the reading. Once we have read What Do You Do With A Voice Like That? I could them put students in pairs or small groups and have them add to their webs or create a new one based on characteristics they learned Barbara Jordan had as a leader.

Miller, P.Z. (2019). Remarkably YOU. New York, NY: Harper, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
3,758 reviews19 followers
June 27, 2018
I don't usually review picture book galleys but this one is exceptional even in this form. I was so lucky to receive it and hear Ekula Holmes, the illustrator speak about her process with this book at an ALA event.

This is an inspiring story paired with stunning and evocative illustrations. Author and illustrator do a stellar job of bringing this brilliant woman and her important life to a new generation of children. It has never been more important to show that legislators can be dedicated patriots whose sincere efforts are for the good of the country.

Excellent back matter includes a timeline, suggested reading and author's note. There is a link to the author's site where the complete bibliography can be found.
Profile Image for Margaret.
2,532 reviews
December 6, 2018
Every single being is born with a gift. It might not initially be noticed, but what we do with this gift defines us. It's how we make our mark in this world. Hopefully spirits will be lifted and the quality of life of those around us will be better.

In 1936 there was a girl child born in Texas. What Do You Do With A Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 25, 2018) written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes presents a stirring account of this child. She understood the good her gift would (and did) bring to others.

My full recommendation: https://librariansquest.blogspot.com/...
Profile Image for OnceUponALibrarian.
359 reviews6 followers
July 27, 2018
Expertly crafted story of "extraordinary congresswoman" Barbara Jordan! A perfect book to inspire young readers towards education, self-knowledge, growth-mindset, owning their own voice, ethics, government and civics. Such a refreshing, positive view of the power of educated civil-servants working for the public good. Loved the layering of "voice" and her determination coming through. Powerful, striking, colorful illustrations by Ekua Holmes are perfect!
Profile Image for Laura.
1,844 reviews28 followers
March 25, 2022
I had been looking for a book about Barbara Jordan, a hero of mine, to introduce her to my students. I attended TCTELA in Frisco, a professional conference for English Teachers, where the author of this book was featured. I fell in love with the book.

It's going to be featured on my African-American Heritage Month shelf. The art is gorgeous and I love the repetition.

I ordered a copy and finally got my copy today. Yay!
Profile Image for Raven Black.
1,962 reviews5 followers
June 29, 2018
The illustrations could be a little awkward for a child reader, but the fact I had never heard of Barbara Jordan means that this is a great introduction to her. Older children (7 up) would be the perfect audience. But also would be a fun "companion" time for the "adult or teen" learner to add to a presentation or talk.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,221 reviews14 followers
December 8, 2018
An inspiring picture book biography about congresswoman Barbara Jordan. I had not previously heard of her, and look forward to learning more about this African American and LGBT politician and educator.
Profile Image for Katie Reilley.
781 reviews26 followers
November 7, 2018
Gorgeously illustrated picture book biography that tells the story of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and her career as a lawyer, educator, politician, civil rights leader, and educator. Excellent back matter st the end of the book. Inspiring and a must read!
20 reviews
November 10, 2018
I really liked this book because it was so inspirational. Now I feel like I can do anything with a voice like mine. I will always remember Barbara Jordan the Congresswoman. I would definitely recommend this book for people who like informational, inspiring books:).
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
1,850 reviews24 followers
December 7, 2018
Earlier this year Ekua Holmes blew me away with her art in The Stuff of Stars. I am equally impressed with her illustrations in this powerful biography about a different type of star. I would not be surprised if Holmes is our next Caldecott Award winner.
Profile Image for Rachel.
363 reviews7 followers
August 23, 2019
I first heard about Barbara Jordan on 'This American Life' and found her story to be awe-inspiring. What a badass lady. This book absolutely shows that. Gorgeously illustrated, the story is told with dignity and just enough detail. Short version? So good that it gave me goosebumps.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 172 reviews

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