Papa's Mark

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of this affecting story, Simms and his papa ride into their Southern town on their weekly shopping trip. It's a few weeks before election day, when African-Americans will be allowed to vote for the first time. The kind white shopkeeper gives Simms a poster announcing the election and, after the purchases are completed, asks Samuel to put his "mark" on the store pad. "Every Saturday Simms watched Papa put an X on the pad. Simms's gaze fell to the floor," explains the understated narrative. When they return home, the boy offers to show his father how to write his name so he'll "never have to make that X again," but Samuel gently rebuffs the offer. Yet late that night, the sleepless boy arises and spies his father hunched over a piece of paper, producing letters that, in his own words, look "like chicken scratch." Soon the father asks for his son's help, which is willingly given. In a triumphant denouement, Samuel signs his name on voting day and asks Simms to join him in putting the ballot in the box. Battle-Lavert (previously teamed with Bootman for The Music in Derrick's Heart) broadens the historical scope of her story with references to blacks' hesitancy about voting, as they fear trouble from angry whites. Bootman's oil paintings contrast emotion-filled character studies with softly focused backdrops of the rural landscape or with relatively spare interiors. Judicious use of light and shadow underscores the message of hope. Ages 4-8. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In their latest collaboration, Battle-Lavert and Bootman (The Music in Derrick's Heart) share the extremely moving story of the first day "colored" men were legally able to vote in Lamar County (state unidentified). Young Simms adores his proud Papa, who is brave enough to convince his friends and neighbors to risk the wrath of white folks by going to vote: "Freedom don't come easy," Papa tells them. "My papa taught me that." But Simms is shamed that his father is unable to read or write: will his father have to sign his all-important ballot by merely scratching an X, his mark? Simms and his father work together to help Papa learn to write his name, and on election day, joined by his formerly reluctant neighbors and by one quietly decent white man, Papa walks forward to record his signature. Bootman's richly expressive oil paintings and Battle-Lavert's simple, poignant text made me weep, with their eloquent, beautiful portrait of one of the small acts of courage by so many individual African-Americans that led to the making of a more free and equal land. 2003, Holiday House, Ages 4 to 8.
— Claudia Mills
Library Journal
Gr 2-5-This story revolves around the descendants of freed slaves struggling to assert their right to vote after the Civil War. Despite being legally enfranchised by the Fifteenth Amendment, many roadblocks still stand in the way of black men like Samuel T. Blow: functional illiteracy, the lingering bigotry of the white men in power, and the spiritual paralysis born of many years spent with no rights at all. But Samuel's young son, Simms, helps his father learn to read and write his own name, which gives the man the courage to lead their community to the polling place on Election Day. Battle-Lavert employs regional colloquialisms and a simple narrative structure to tell her story, and Bootman's dense oil paintings evoke the mood and setting of the period. An epilogue covers the politics and other complications that kept African Americans from voting as freely as whites before 1966. Minor problems arise in the text, however, as when it suggests that Samuel-who has only recently learned to read and write his own name-could manage a written ballot without help. Since the plot focuses on his illiteracy, it seems a bit facile for the text to imply that learning to sign his name was the only educational hurdle for him to clear. Nevertheless, this is a powerful story with a lot to offer to young readers.-Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Talk of the upcoming election permeates the African-American community because, for the first time, they will be permitted to vote alongside their white neighbors. There are indications that this will not be an easy task, as many whites do not want that to happen. Simms is enormously proud of his Papa's determination to vote in spite of all the obstacles and fears. But Papa cannot read or write and he desperately wants to write his name instead of his mark when he votes. Discouraged by the "chicken scratches" he makes, he elicits help from Simms and practices diligently. On Election Day, Papa writes his name, and he and Simms put the ballot in the box together. Battle-Lavert tells the story simply, letting the pride, compassion, and love between father and son shine through. Bootman's oil paintings add further dimension as they carefully complement the words and the mood. Heartfelt. (Picture book. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823416509
  • Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2004
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 430L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    First of all, giving 1 star and putting The New York Times besid

    First of all, giving 1 star and putting The New York Times beside it was "Ingeniously Twisted."  Second of all, the subtle but juvenile racial innuendos and sarcasm is quite amusing.(Papa is black....Thanks for pointing that out "Sherlock!")  The book is quite invigorating and reiterates to our youth of today the importance of a vote for tomorrow.  

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  • Posted November 19, 2008

    Excellent book for the classroom!

    The first review of this book, on this website, is ridiculous and should be removed.<BR/><BR/>This is an excellent book to bring into the classroom when introducing historical issues behind the right to vote in the black community. Simple to read and perfect for 1st-3rd grade, an great book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2005

    New York Times

    Papa's mark is about a man who learns how to write. He likes to shop. Papa leans that he can vote. Papa is black. Papa votes. Papa is happy. Simms tells papa how to vote. And how to rite.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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