Julius Lester Teaches about the Black Experience

Julius Lester came of age during the fight for civil rights for black Americans. In 1960, he graduated from Fiske College and became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee which organized student protests in communities across the nation.

He was able to use his artistic abilities to photograph the saga of the civil rights movement. He played banjo and guitar at rallies throughout the South and made friends with politically active white folksingers Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Folk music was an important part of the movement, bringing people Let's Talk About Racefrom all backgrounds together in song.

As the 60's went on, he wrote political essays and hard-hitting books about racial injustice. Once an editor suggested that he try writing children's books. One of his first books, Black Folktales, took classic stories and retold them in street language. He used the tales to make moral and political ideas available to kids.

Another book, To Be a Slave, creates stories from true accounts of the struggles of slaves and ex-slaves, both before and after the Civil War. To Be a Slave was a Newbery Honor book in 1969.

In the mid-1970s, Lester became a college professor at University of Massachusetts. He was very interested in Jewish studies and discovered that his beloved grandmother was descended from Jews. In the 1980s, he converted to the Jewish faith and now teaches at the university's Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department. His courses compare the suffering of blacks in America to the suffering of Jews thoughout European history.

Julius Lester has said that he enjoys writing for younger readers so he can give his own and other black children the books he wanted to read as a child, so that they might find their own roots and learn their own history. He also loves the enthusiam he gets from his young audiences!

Lester went on to write many collections of folk tales for young people, many of which are available from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Click on any title to go to the catalog where you may reserve a copy today.

Lester's Stories from Folk Traditions

Ackamarackus: Julius Lester's Sumptuously Silly Fantastically Funny Fables
Meet an eagle who is afraid of heights, a bee who falls in love with a bluebird, and an alligator who would rather live in Vermont than Florida. Six silly stories. uses his work to teach moral and political lessons as well as history.

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: a True Story
Ride along with cowboy Bob Lemmons, a former slave, who tracks down a herd of wild horses for days and brings them back to his ranch.

How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?
A collection of twelve pourquoi (French for "why") stories from ancient traditions. Learn why the sun and the moon live in the sky and why monkeys live in trees! Stories are drawn from both Jewish and African folklore.

John Henry
Day of TearsAccording to legend, this African American hero raced a steam drill with his trusty hammer.

The Knee-High Man and Other Tales
Six tales from black American folk literature that answer questions like "What is Trouble?" and "Why Do Dogs Hate Cats?"

Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo told with some dialect.
Can Sam trick the hungry tigers?

To Be a Slave
This Newbery Honor Book is a collection of six stories based on historical fact telling about the hardships slaves endured. For older students.

Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales
Will Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and Brer Wolf ever get one over on that tricky Brer Rabbit?

Julius Lester on the Web

Articles about Julius Lester Online
CRRL card holders may view and print out information on the author from Biography Resource Center and Literature Resource Center.

Julius Lester's Home Page
The author's Web site has a short biography, answers to FAQs, and excerpts from some of his books for mature readers as well as his folktales and picture books. Has a link to some of his photographs (with biographical notes) and an email contact point.

Meet the Author: Julius Lester
A quick biography and advice for kids who want to become writers.