New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2017

Walter Dean Myers died in 2014, but he left us another one of his brilliant books for young people. It is not the goal of this picture book biography of Frederick Douglass to tell us his entire life story; rather, it highlights Douglass’s decisions through the course of his life that made him a great success and a historical figure. Douglass learned to read in secret, recovered from a broken spirit, learned to write and behave like a free and educated person, ran away, became a public speaker and activist, and served his country not because those things happened to him, but because he made decisions to make them happen.

Important and relevant for today’s students is the example set by Douglass in taking control of his life. He made good, if dangerous, choices throughout his life to set himself up for success and took every opportunity to observe and learn.  Students might think about decisions they make in elementary, middle, and high school that could make a difference later on.

Cooper’s illustrations are as beautiful as one would expect from this award-winning illustrator. The soft tones created by Cooper’s eraser and oil technique give just the right soft quality for such a reflective story. With lots of text on the page, this title is best for reading aloud and older elementary students. At the end there is a helpful timeline of Douglass’s life, a very short bibliography, and the text of the document signed by Hugh Auld officially and legally freeing Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History is an excellent addition in honor of Black History Month, especially if a more traditional Douglass biography is already in the biography section, and an important picture book biography for any elementary collection.

Dewey: 973.8 or 920 Interest Level:  K-4

Reviews and Awards: Booklist starred; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; Kirkus Reviews; Publisher’s Weekly starred; School Library Journal starred.

Middle school readers might like: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman.

Young adult readers might like: Unbound and Unbroken: The Story of Frederick Douglass by Amos Esty.

Fiction Pairing: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan.

On the Web:

Africans in America Resouce Bank: Frederick Douglass from Includes a summary of Douglass’s life and a link to a great Teacher’s Guide.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia from the National Park Service.  Website includes video, photographs of Douglass and his family, a collection of items owned and used by Douglas, lesson plans and more materials for classroom use.


American Experience: The Abolitionists from PBS.