Sarah Breedlove Walker's dying words sum up her life: I want to live to help my race. It's great for kids to learn about heroes, and to discover that heroes are not made with a cookie-cutter and an identical recipe.

Sarah Breedlove was the first free child born to former slaves. Although the Breedloves were free, they were desperately poor. Her parents were sharecroppers and worked on their former master's plantation. They sent their three children to the colored school, but it was only open for a few months each year. The rest of the year Sarah and her siblings worked 12-hour days in the fields, and then had chores at home. On weekends, Minerva Breedlove and her daughters washed clothes for themselves and white families. Orphaned at the age of seven, Sarah lived with her older sister and her husband until, at the age of 14, she married Charles Walker, a farm laborer. When Sarah's hair began to fall out, she was unsatisfied with the harsh treatments then available. Determined to make effective, gentle products specifically for colored women's hair, she experimented with different ingredients. Thus began Madame C.J. Walker's Manufacturing Company.

By 1912, Madam Walker was the richest African-American woman in America and had helped thousands of women lead better lives by supplying them with well-paying, respectable jobs. She made a point of using an African-American model in her advertisements and avoided referring to their hair as bad or undesirable. She contributed generously to organizations and to philanthropies in Indianapolis, where her legacy continues.

Lasky's storytelling is superb. She brings Walker's struggles and triumphs to life, vividly describing the racial and sexist hurdles that Walker challenged on the road to her success. Lasky uses actual quotes for all of her dialogue, giving her work a very moving dose of reality. Bennett's beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations show determined, strong people in period dress.

Vision of Beauty (ages 8-12) is a wonderfully inspirational book, telling a true rags-to-riches story and reminding us that with tenacity and courage, we can achieve anything.

Julie Anderson is a writer and mother of two.

comments powered by Disqus