Dear Benjamin Banneker


Throughout his life Banneker was troubled that all blacks were not free. And so, in 1791, he wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. Banneker attacked the institution of slavery and dared to call Jefferson a hypocrite for owning slaves. Jefferson responded. This is the story of Benjamin Banneker--his science, his politics, his morals, and his extraordinary correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Illustrated in full-page scratchboard and oil paintings by ...

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Dear Benjamin Banneker

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Throughout his life Banneker was troubled that all blacks were not free. And so, in 1791, he wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. Banneker attacked the institution of slavery and dared to call Jefferson a hypocrite for owning slaves. Jefferson responded. This is the story of Benjamin Banneker--his science, his politics, his morals, and his extraordinary correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Illustrated in full-page scratchboard and oil paintings by Caldecott Honor artist Brian Pinkney.

Benjamin Banneker was born free when most blacks were still enslaved. A self-taught mathematician and astronomer, he was the author of the first published almanac written by a black man. Throughout his life Bannecker was troubled that all blacks were not free. So, in 1791, he sent a letter to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Here is the extraordinary correspondence between the two men. Full-color illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A nice introduction to a very important person in American history."—American Bookseller
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Banneker, an 18th-century astronomer and mathematician, was a free African American who corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about ending slavery. In a starred review, PW called this illustrated biography "a memorable portrait." Ages 6-10. Aug.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Pinkneys (Alvin Ailey; Seven Candles for Kwanzaa) continue their impressive collaboration with this memorable portrait of Benjamin Banneker, a free African American born in 1731. Lucid text and striking illustrations, rendered on scratchboard and colored with oil paint, shape a solid, sober tribute of a vigorous thinker, a self-taught mathematician and scientist, a man concerned with civil rights. This persevering man labored by day on his Maryland tobacco farm; by night he observed the sky and learned astronomy. Producing an almanac-something no African American had ever done-he tried in vain to find a publisher. In 1790, the president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery helped him secure publication-but it was so late in the year that Banneker had to create an entirely new set of calculations. He recognized the irony of his achievement: while the almanac would be of use to many individuals and would demonstrate the abilities of black people, he realized that slaves themselves would never benefit from his book, since most were forbidden to learn to read or to have books. Banneker's frustration led him to write to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, pointing out the statesman's inconsistency in proclaiming that all men are created equal even as he owned slaves. Excerpts from the correspondence between the two men are woven into the narrative, deepening the poignancy of this moving story with the presence of historical weight. Ages 6-10. Children's BOMC featured selection. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Leila J. Toledo
The Banneker family was a free black family long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Very little is written about people or families who were free before the end of slavery. Dear Benjamin Banneker presents an account of a life of a black man who turned his thoughts to the sky and wondered about the stars, moon and the sun. It also covers an extraordinary account of a correspondence between him and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, regarding slavery. Highly recommended because it depicts a black man who was an astronomer, mathematician and the author of the first almanac published by a black man.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Benjamin Banneker, the eighteenth century astronomer, mathematician, and almanac writer, was also an outspoken critic of the standards of the day. Banneker, a free black man, faced stigma with the same clarity as he charted the heavens, writing directly to Thomas Jefferson to question the integrity of the new country. Andrea's writing paints a full picture of a man who keenly observed the land and heavens, and searched for the truth in both science and in life. Brian's scratchboard illustrations depict the man and his time.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-This look at the life and times of the 18th-century black scientist is accompanied by Brian Pinkney's full-page masterful and luminous scratchboard/ oil paintings. Andrea Pinkney provides a basic outline of her subject's youth and years as a tobacco farmer, his passion for learning and interest in astronomy, and his decision to write an almanac. She focuses the account on an exchange of letters in 1791, when Banneker sent a copy of his newly printed almanac to Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. Secretary of State, and chastised him for keeping slaves. The reply sounds like a polite brush-off, and Jefferson made no acknowledgement of the dichotomy between his Declaration of Independence and his ownership of slaves. The quoting of these letters in the prose of the time forces the inclusion of vocabulary and syntax several levels above that of the audience for which the book seems intended. Although the bare-bones details are here, he does not come alive; while the art is lovely, the text offers just a glimpse at this remarkable man's accomplishments. The author states that the publishing of Banneker's almanac ``showed everybody that indeed all men are created equal.'' Since the almanac reached a limited audience, one wonders how many people at the time even knew who Banneker was, or about his ethnic background. Although the book is more accessible to younger readers than Jeri Ferris's What Are You Figuring Now? (Carolrhoda, 1988), it may not hold their attention.-Martha Rosen, Edgewood School, Scarsdale, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780152018924
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 368,190
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: AD1100L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.07 (w) x 10.97 (h) x 0.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times best-selling author of several books for young readers, including the novel Bird in a Box, a Today Show Al Roker Book Club for Kids pick, and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award. Additional works include the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book Duke Ellington, illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney; and Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a Coretta Scott King Honor book and winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award. Andrea Davis Pinkney lives in New York City.

BRIAN PINKNEY is a celebrated picture-book illustrator who has won two Caldecott Honors. His many professional tributes also include the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors. He has collaborated with his wife, author Andrea Davis Pinkney, on several picture books including Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and Sleeping Cutie. The Pinkneys live in Brooklyn, New York.

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