Richmond, Laylah, and Sharon Richmond. The Whole World Opened Up. Two Pigeons Press, 2023. 978-0-991-81619-4. $14.99. 64 p. Grades 3-6.
Aspiring author, third-grader, Laylah Richmond, loves to read, write, and draw. At dinner after church, her grandmother tells her about a reading contest sponsored by The Black Star Project in downtown Chicago: Black Girls Read for Cash and Glory. Though Laylah is hesitant–she sometimes gets confused with the different pronunciation of words–she consents to enter if her grandmother accompanies her. Further encouragement comes when her best friend, Ria, says she will enter, too. Unfortunately as the competition draws closer, her grandmother has to attend a funeral on the morning of the contest. Though nervous and disappointed, Laylah and Ria attend the competition located in the historic Chicago neighborhood called Bronzeville. Founder, Philip Jackson, hosts the event and offers the prizes; he recites his motto, “Educate or Die.” Laylah and Ria select writings of African-American women heroines and mount the stage to recite the words of Harriet Tubman and Josephine Baker. Inspired and proud, Laylah returns home after her day and soon learns she is the recipient of a second-place prize. She and her family are invited to the African-American owned radio studio where Laylah and the other winners will be interviewed. Not only does Laylah grow in confidence through this experience, she also learns about the accomplishments of famous African-American people, nationally and locally. The title, The Whole World Opened Up, harkens to a Mary McLeod Bethune quote: “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.” This beginning chapter book, illustrated with folk-like style art by the authors, acknowledges the importance of reading and language and pays tribute to Philip Jackson (1950-2018), the founder and director of The Black Star Project and The Parent Revolution Radio Program. The cozy narrative of this book will draw in young readers. Like the Ryan Hart series by Renee Watson, the Richmonds’ book offers a story with African American characters in a modern, family setting with the added bonus of finding out about the history of people and places about which they may not yet know.
THOUGHTS: The Whole World Opened Up is a simply written book that manages to interject seamlessly lots of helpful information: difficult English words, famous Chicago places, African-American owned businesses, and African-American people. Laylah and Ria take on the challenge, even though they are nervous. Laylah wins, but Ria doesn’t –and it’s fine. It is obvious that the grandmother/grandchild writing team want to honor Philip Jackson, a local businessman and public servant who dedicated his life to activism, particularly in education. A photograph at the end of the book verifies that Laylah was an actual winner of the contest, but the story is not set up like a memoir. Share this book with young readers and writers as an example of plot or even read it aloud to generate interest in African-American businesses and heroes and heroines in their own towns. (Note: I read an e-book ARC from NetGalley and Lorraine Hansberry’s name was misspelled.)