Written by: Beah E. Richards (Introduction by LisaGay Hamilton)
Illustrated by: R. Gregory Christie
For ages: 4 years and up
Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Self-Expression, Acceptance, Self-Acceptance, Independence.
Summary: This is a poem about girl power! The main character is determined to prove her bravery and climb to the top of the tree, despite threats from the intimidating figure Miss Nettie that she’ll fall and break her neck. She is called a tomboy, and that has a lot of negative connotations but our main character doesn’t care. I would say there is much less negativity surrounding the term these days, and that it is generally more of a descriptor, but in the 1950’s when this was originally written there was a lot more stigma surrounding the term.
A particularly profound stanza of the poem which continues to ring true today is: “But Miss Nettie hadn’t reckoned with the wisdom of little girls. For even they know little boys have the upper hand in this world. The only way to make a bid for a girl’s equality is to climb right up to the toppermost bough of the very tallest tree”. The main character realizes that in order to gain respect, she must do something that would impress the group in power-in this case, the neighborhood boys. She shows remarkable bravery, both in climbing the tree branches and defying an authority figure (risking punishment after her feat is accomplished).
The poem overall is framed within this tree climbing experience, but can be applied to other experiences in life. In a patriarchal world, women (especially women of color) are expected to be exemplary in order to be seen as equal. This poem ages well, and is still both an anthem for tomboys and a call for daring adventures.
- When have you done something that required bravery?
- What do you think the main character was thinking about when she was climbing?
- Do you like climbing trees?
- What other animals like to live in trees?
- If you were building a tree house, what type of tree would you like to live in?
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Beulah Elizabeth Richardson (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000), known professionally as Beah Richards, was an American actress of stage, screen, and television. She was also a poet, playwright, and author. The poem which serves as the text for the book was originally written in 1951!
Richards was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her supporting role in the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1968, as well as winning two Primetime Emmy Awards for her guest roles in the television series Frank’s Placein 1988 and The Practice in 2000. She also received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in the 1965 production of The Amen Corner.
LisaGay Hamilton (born March 25, 1964) is an American actress who has portrayed roles in films, television, and on stage. She is best known for her role as attorney Rebecca Washington on the ABC‘s legal drama The Practice (1997-2003). She also portrayed Melissa Thoreau on the TNT comedy-drama Men of a Certain Age (2009-2011), Celia Jones on the Netflix series House of Cards (2016), Suzanne Simms on the Hulu series Chance (2016), and Kayla Price on the Hulu series The First (2018).
Hamilton’s film credits include roles in 12 Monkeys (1995), Jackie Brown (1997), Beloved (1998), True Crime (1999), The Sum of All Fears (2002), The Soloist (2009), Beastly (2011), Beautiful Boy (2018), and Vice (2018). Her theater credits include Measure for Measure (Isabella), Henry IV Parts I & II (Lady Hotspur), Athol Fugard’s, Valley Song and The Ohio State Murders. Hamilton was also an original cast member in the Broadway productions of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean. In 2005 she won a Peabody Award for creating and directing the 2003 documentary film Beah: A Black Woman Speaks.
R. Gregory Christie is a multi-award winning children’s book illustrator with more than 60 traditionally published books to his credit. He is also the owner of GAS-ART GIFTS (Gregarious Art Statements) an Atlanta based traveling children’s bookstore that provides art services to private and public groups. R. Gregory Christie received a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in Freedom in Congo Square, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. He is a three-time recipient of The New York Times’s 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year Award, a six-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Honor Award in Illustration, and a winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, the NAACP’s Image Award, and the Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award from the Museum of Tolerance. Visit Mr. Christie’s website at Gas-Art.com!
10 Things You Might Not Know About R. Gregory Christie
- He is an NAACP Image Award Winner.
- The 2013 Kwaanza Stamp designer.
- A Caldecott Honor Winner
- A Six time, Coretta Scott King Honor recipient.
- Has won many awards from The New York Times and Boston Globe.
- An artist for a New Orleans Jazz Festival poster.
- Has films on Netflix through Karyn Parson’s “Sweet Blackberry” projects.
- He’s done many album covers including John Coltrane’s and Joe Sample’s.
- One Billion people saw his artwork on the New York City subway cars in 2013.
- He’s lived in many places including Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Australia