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Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl

Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl

by Tonya Bolden

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This Coretta Scott King Honor Book provides a much-needed window into a little-documented time in black history. The poignant story, based on the memoir of Maritcha Rémond Lyons, shows what it was like to be a black child born free and living in New York City in the mid-1800s.


This Coretta Scott King Honor Book provides a much-needed window into a little-documented time in black history. The poignant story, based on the memoir of Maritcha Rémond Lyons, shows what it was like to be a black child born free and living in New York City in the mid-1800s.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bolden (The Champ, reviewed above) lucidly relays the illuminating life history of Maritcha R mond Lyons, born a free black in 1848 in lower Manhattan. The author draws her biographical sketch primarily from Lyons's unpublished memoir, dated one year before her death in 1929. Bolden uses research about the period to speculate about what chores Maritcha may have performed and games she may have played, and recaps Lyons's descriptions of some of the highlights of her childhood and family history (including her grandmother's memory of the day Frederick Douglass visited the family home) as well as of her role models, including her parents, whose boardinghouse (which catered to black sailors) also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. One of the strongest sections of the book documents the Draft Riots (protests against a military draft during the Civil War) of July 1868, and the impact of them on Maritcha and other citizens: their home was vandalized and looted, and the family relocated to Rhode Island. There Maritcha successfully petitioned the state legislature for permission to attend Providence High School, from which she was the first black student to graduate. A concluding note summarizes her adult life as a highly respected educator and orator, while elegantly framed family photos and clearly reproduced archival drawings and maps make for a handsome presentation. An illuminating life story. Ages 5-9. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Several years ago, the eighty-one-page memoir of Maritcha Lyons was brought to the attention of the author while she was researching another project at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Both the author and her subject had grown up in Manhattan, although Maritcha was born in 1848 so her experiences growing up as a black girl in a predominantly white society were often shadowed by racism and denial. The author immediately felt a kinship with the girl and decided to write about this child, a freeborn black, who proudly stood up to those denials. Maritcha's father had urged her to write a book and that resulted in her reflecting upon her family history and writing the memoir. Unfortunately, she never kept a diary as a girl, so some of her childhood experiences, as presented in this book, are educated assumptions about how a child would live in that environment in those years. However, there are also many facts about her impressive family and the history of the area. Photographs and drawings add to the story of a young woman who knew the barriers placed in her way were meant to be removed. 2005, Harry N Abrams, Ages 8 up.
—Carolyn Mott Ford
School Library Journal
Gr 4 Up-Readers met Maritcha R mond Lyons in Bolden's Tell All the Children Our Story (Abrams, 2002), in a one-page entry that included an excerpt from her unpublished memoir. The author has now expanded her use of Lyons's memoir, family archival materials, and other primary sources to tell the story of this free black child before, during, and after the Civil War. Maritcha's achievements were extraordinary for her time, gender, and race. During her youth in lower Manhattan, she was exposed to many strong, well-educated adults. Her parents, their friends (some well known), and her own determination carried her through difficult times, including the Draft Riots of 1863, the destruction of the family home and business, and a fight for public education. Strength of family and education were the driving forces in this girl's life. Bolden emphasizes these themes as she skillfully presents interesting facts and a personal view of an often-overlooked segment of history. While the book focuses on Maritcha's childhood, a concluding note discusses her adulthood. (Lyons spent close to 50 years as an educator, including a term as assistant principal of Brooklyn's Public School No. 83.) A number of family documents and photographs are included; period sketches and paintings complete the picture of 19th-century life in New York City. The high quality of writing and the excellent documentation make this a first choice for all collections.-Carolyn Janssen, Children's Learning Center of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A serious-looking 12-year-old girl looks out at the reader from a sepia-toned cover photograph: The "American Girl" of the subtitle was African-American, a member of New York's black middle class. Piecing together her unpublished memoir and contemporary accounts of life in mid-19th-century New York, Bolden tells Maritcha Remond Lyons's story. Her father was an activist on the local level and had formed relationships with many of the prominent African-Americans in New York, giving the young Maritcha a bounty of role models. After the New York City Draft Riots, the Lyons family moved to Providence, where a determined Maritcha became the first African-American to graduate from Providence High School. Lavish illustrations from the period embellish the tale, which excels in its focus on the telling detail: Lost in the riots were "Maritcha's poplin, organdie, and French calico dresses; six muslin skirts, [and] a pair of kid gloves. . . . " Although Maritcha comes across as something of a stuffed shirt-her prose is distinctly Victorian in flavor-her story provides a valuable glimpse into a history largely forgotten. (notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.50(w) x 10.50(h) x 0.35(d)
1190L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Tonya Bolden has written a number of books for children, teens, and adults. She lives in New York City.

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