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 the 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.
Chris Barton is the author of many picture books, including the bestseller 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). His other books include Book or Bell?, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Chris visits schools by the score and also loves speaking to professional gatherings of librarians, educators, and his fellow writers. Chris and his wife, novelist Jennifer Ziegler, live in Austin, Texas, with their family. www.chrisbarton.info
Ekua Holmes is a native of Roxbury, Mass., a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and founder and director of The Great Black Art Collection. Currently Holmes serves as assistant director of MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships, and manages sparc! the ArtMobile, the institution’s vehicle for community outreach pursuing a mission of “igniting art and design in the neighborhood!”
Holmes debuted her own artwork in 2000 in the exhibition “Renewal and Regeneration at the Museum of Our National Heritage,” and her first solo exhibition, “Second Childhood,” was installed in 2004 at the Hess Gallery of Pine Manor College. Her work has since been showcased in numerous invitational, solo, and group exhibitions in galleries throughout the New England area. Holmes has been honored with artist residencies at Vermont Studio Center, the Boston Arts Academy and the Rocky Neck Art Association of Gloucester, Mass. She is the recipient of the 2013 NAACP Image Award, a Brother Thomas Fellowship, and a five-year appointment to the Boston Art Commission. In the fall of 2015, Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement was released featuring illustrations by Holmes, garnering a Caldecott Honor, a Robert F. Sibert Honor, the Flora Stieglitz Strauss Award from Bank Street College and is a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book. In addition, for her Voice of Freedom illustrations, Holmes won the Society of Illustrators Original Art Silver medal and the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award for New Talent.