Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer

illus. by Bryan Collier. 32p. bibliog. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481420952.
Gr 1–4—In 1840s Kentucky, Stephen Bishop, a slave, gave public tours of Mammoth Cave for his master's profit. Henson takes this factual piece of history and weaves a germane and trenchant story. Written in the first person, with Bishop leading readers through a tour, this book packs intricate meaning into each line. For example, when describing the cave, Bishop says, " 'Specially when you're searching out a path that's hardly been lit, a trail that's never been smooth or flat or plain to follow," implying that the path of the cave is much like that of a slave. Collier's superb watercolor and collage illustrations are painterly and grainy and complement the text perfectly. Bishop, who also becomes known as "Guide," cleverly learns to read by showing people how to make marks on the cave with a candle. They write their names; he learns to read. Readers follow Bishop as he showcases his skill and reflects on his seemingly incompatible roles in life—the limits of slavery and his unlimited exploration and knowledge of Mammoth Cave. The work ends with Bishop warning readers that there is little information on his life beyond the cave, explaining that history books do not record his death and that sometimes "you just got to go beyond what's written down to get to what's been left untold."
VERDICT Complex and just waiting for an in-depth discussion, this is a solid purchase for biography and U.S. history collections.

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