February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Pick of the Day: Searching for Sarah Rector

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Searching for Sarah RectorBolden, Tonya. Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America. 80p. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. Abrams. Jan. 2014. Tr $21.95.  ISBN 9781419708466. LC 2012039254.
Gr 6-8–When Sarah Rector turned 18 in 1920, the young black woman had amassed a fortune estimated at $1 million. In telling her story, Bolden makes a largely unknown portion of American history accessible to young readers. Rector and her family were “Creek freedmen,” black citizens of the Creek Indian nation. When the Creeks were forced to resettle west of the Mississippi in the 1800s, each one received a land allotment. Sarah’s contained rich oil deposits, making her enormously wealthy. As a result, there was great media interest in her whereabouts and lifestyle, though much of the reporting was highly inaccurate and speculative. When she disappeared, the black-owned newspaper the Chicago Defender and the NAACP even suggested that Sarah had been kidnapped and that her legal guardians were profiting at her expense. All of this was untrue. In telling Rector’s story, Bolden admittedly had to deal with gaps in information. Yet, piecing together the facts clearly reflects Bolden’s skill as a history writer–her rigorous questioning of documents; her own clearly stated position on what the “facts” mean; and her extensive use of visual material, such as newspaper articles, maps, paintings, and photographs. In an author’s note, Bolden tells how she first learned about Sarah, how she researched her life, and how–in the process–she found evidence that was contrary to what she expected. This book will be extremely useful to teachers and librarians seeking material to align with Common Core State Standards dealing with the craft of writing of informational text. Pair it with Bolden’s Maritcha (Abrams, 2005), another book that deals with the challenges of writing history when there are gaps in available historical evidence.–Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York

Read an SLJ interview with Tonya Bolden on Searching for Sarah Rector and listen to a recording of the author reading from the book.



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