Julius Lester

My Books

The Folksinger's Guide to the 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly, co-author with Pete Seeger, 1965

An instruction book on how to play the 12-string guitar, from the days when I was a folksinger.

Guardian, 2008

Look Out, Whitey! Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama, 1968

The first book published about Black Power. (Out of print)

"...a magnificent example of the new black revolutionary writing...." New York Times Book Review

"...a valuable book, explicating the SNCC history, style and theory even better than Carmichael's Black Power. It will be an indispensable part of the library of every person who wants to understand what has happened to the Movement in the last fifteen years."
The New Republic

To Be A Slave, 1968
Penguin Modern Classics


The story of slavery combining a descriptive narrative about slavery with the words of ex-slaves. Illustrations by Tom Feelings.

Awards and Honors

Newbery Honor Book
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award of the University of Wisconsin
American Library Association Notable Book List
New Times Outstanding Book List

"This is how it was --- a powerful chronicle of tragedy skillfully assembled from the eloquent slaves themselves, accompanied by pointed but unobtrusive editorial commentary and starkly dramatic illustrations." -- School Library Journal

"...for our time there's nothing better than Julius Lester's To Be A Slave...." -- New York Times Book Review

"To reread Lester's classic in its new thirtieth-anniversary edition...is to be reminded anew of its enduring power...." Michael Cart, Booklist


Search for the New Land, 1969

A semi-autobiographical work that seeks to tell the story of the 1960s by combining autobiography, "found" poetry, narrative and social commentary. People often ask me what are my favorites among the books I've written. This is definitely one. (Out of print)

"Julius Lester has road-mapped the highway followed by the Vietnam-Black Power-Confrontation generation. His book is necessary to anyone's understanding of the 1960's." -- Julian Bond

"Wonderful --- a talking mixture of anger, disgust, and love. And hope. In its way, it says almost everything." -- George Wald, winner of the 1967 Nobel Prize for Medicine

"[Lester's] savage eye penetrates deeply into the last 25 years in America and in the world." -- Los Angeles Times

Revolutionary Notes, 1969

Short essays of political and cultural analysis and commentary of events of the late 60s, hippies, Black Panther Party, SDS, war in Vietnam, etc. (Out of print)

"In essay after essay, Lester cuts like a surgeon into revolutionary strategy and principles, freeing them of the fantasy, bloated rhetoric and useless emotion characterizing so much of the sound and fury passing today as revolutionary action." -- New York Times Book Review

"[Lester] remains conscious throughout of his integrity and his worth hovering like a Black Superego over so many tumultuous Black egos." -- New York Times Book Review

Black Folktales, 1969 (Grove Press)

I didn't know it at the time but this was the first book retelling black folktales as opposed to a collection. This book contains a compilation of the High John the Conqueror tales as well as my own version of Stagolee, which I first recorded on my second album, "Departures," Vanguard Records, 1967. Illustrations by Tom Feelings.

"...a fine collection and adds more laurels to the crown of the author." -- New York Times Book Review

"Mr. Lester is a story-teller, so that these stories aren't written, they are told. So immediate is the force of their telling, you almost hear his voice."
-- Publishers Weekly

The Seventh Son: The Thought and Writings of W.E.B. DuBois, 1971.

A two-volume anthology of the writings of the pioneer Black sociologist and thinker. (Out of print)

"Julius Lester's 152-page biographical introduction is an admirable survey of Du Bois's career and analysis of his writings and their impact. It, and Dubois's own eloquent and forceful writings, are important to anyone hoping to understand America's Black history."
-- The Wall Street Journal

"Lester's introductory essay is a model of compression, expertly employing long extracts from Du Bois's own work." -- Newsweek


Two Love Stories, 1972

Two autobiographical short stories, one about two teenagers, one black and one white, and their relationship in the segregated South of the 1950's, and the other about a summer camp romance. (Out of print)

Awards and Honors

Coretta Scott King Honor Book
English Journal Honor List

"Julius Lester writes beautifully, lyrically, strongly. These fresh, moving and very human stories herald a haunting and mature talent." -- Publishers Weekly

"...Lester's sensitivity and understanding of the human condition...is fully realized in this, his first work of fiction." - Library Journal

"Both [stories] are small gems. There are passages in which he writes like a homesick angel." - Frank Yerby, novelist

Long Journey Home, 1972 (Dial Books For Young Readers)

Six short stories about a blues singer, two exciting escapes from slavery, a black cowboy who rode with mustangs (this story was later rewritten as a picture book, BLACK COWBOY, WILD HORSES), a story about emancipation, and the legend from the Georgia Sea Islands about Africans who escaped slavery by walking beneath the ocean and returning to Africa. The latter, which is also the title story, was rewritten and published in 2005 as THE OLD AFRICAN, with illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.

Awards

National Book Award Finalist
School Library Journal, Best Books List
Library of Congress Children's Books of the Year List
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award of the University of Wisconsin
The Horn Book, Fanfare Honor Book
Child Study Association of America, Books of the Year
List

"Lester has the clearest idea of how history can be made interesting." - New York Review of Books

"The stories, about slaves and ex-slaves, are emotional, chilling, colorful, painful, unsentimental, totally compelling....exceptionally good reading."
-- Publishers Weekly

"...a vibrant collection of stories. They recapture the spirit of a past generation of black people authentically -- the humor, the wit, the gesture, the inuuendo of the vernacular." -- New York Times Book Review


The Knee-High Man and Other Tales, Illustrations by Ralph Pinto, 1972 (Picture Puffins)

Six stories including two "why" stories, one Brer Rabbit story, though he is more formally Mr. Rabbit here, and other tales.

Awards

American Library Association, Notable Children's Books
School Library Journal, Best Books
Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, University of Wisconsin
Library of Congress, Children's Books of the Year List
Child Study Association, Books of the Year

"...excellent for story telling and should be so presented for the greatest impact." -- New York Times Book Review

"The style of telling is direct and simple, and the book should be useful for storytelling as well as for reading aloud." -- Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books


Who I Am, 1974, with David Gahr, photographer

This book combines poems and photographs. Six of the photographs are by me; the rest are by David Gahr. I took several hundred of David's photographs, selected and arranged the ones here and then wrote the poems.If I had to choose my favorite of my books, it would probably be this one. It is such a joyous book. (Out of print)

Awards

National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1975 Books for Brotherhood

"These poems and photographs say how great life is. The poetry is brief, moving, and blends with the photos beautifully. A fine collection that may even turn on kids who don't think they enjoy poetry."
-- Library Journal

"The poems, illustrated with photographs, portray a celebration of life." English Journal

All Is Well, 1976

An autobiography with particular emphasis on my life in the civil rights and Black Power movements. Includes a number of political essays written during the late sixties. (Out of print).

Awards

School Library Journal, Best Young Adult Books of 1976 List

"A highly personal testament to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, this autobiography is also a capsule history of one of the most complex periods in American life -- the 1960s. Recommended for all levels." -- Choice

"...an honest attempt to sort out the complexities both of one individual and of an era." -- Washington Star


This Strange New Feeling, 1982 (Scholastic Paperbacks)

This is a companion volume to Long Journey Home where once again I used true stories as the basis for fiction. "Where the Sun Lives" is my favorite story in this volume.

Awards

American Library Association, Best Books of the Year List, 1983
Parent's Choice Award


"...three powerful stories....exciting and important stories that deserve a wide readership." ALAN Review Magazine

"The feelings of former slaves are difficult to imagine, but this book does a fine job." -- Boston Herald American

"...memorable for their graphic details of day-to-day life under slavery and emancipation. The simple style should make them accessible to slow readers." -- School Library Journal

Do Lord Remember Me, 1984
A few years before my father died in 1981 he asked me to write a book about his life. Though I admired my father I didn't think there was anything in his life worthy of a book. After his funeral I was in his office at home and opened the middle drawer to find a folder. Inside were drafts of his obituary written in long hand, and as he got older, the handwriting became more and more shaky. Suddenly, it was as if I was in the ceiling looking down at an old black minister sitting at his desk trying to find the words to sum up his life. It was as if my father took possession of me and wouldn't let go until I wrote this novel. It is based on his life and through the memories of one man, it tells a story of black history from slavery through the civil rights movement. (To be reprinted by St. Martin's Press and when I have a date, I will post it.)

Awards

Dusable Museum Award for Excellence in Fiction
American Library Association Notable Book

"...a picture of black experience covering more than 150 years....A rich and moving reading experience." --Booklist

"Simply and with great dignity, Lester illuminates a complex soul. A beautiful and touching book." -- School Library Journal

"Lester writes with such a poetic ease, evoking a strong emotional response in the reader...." Washington Post

"The writing is distinguished by a simplicity and clarity that seems exactly right." People magazine

The Tales of Uncle Remus:The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1987. (Puffin Books)
The Uncle Remus tales of Joel Chandler Harris are the largest collection of American black folktales. Harris published the tales randomly. I ordered them, bringing together most of the Brer Rabbit tales in the first two volumes, for example, and created transitions between the stories so that one followed into another. Finally, I put the tales into a modified contemporary black English so as to make them accessible to today's readers who would not understand the dialect of Harris's tales and would consider that dialect insulting.

Awards

Coretta Scott King Award, Honor Book
The Horn Book, Fanfare Honor Book
American Library Association Notable Children's Book
Parent's Choice Award
Tennessee Library Association State Book Award Master List, 1990-91.

"Julius Lester comes through as his irresistible best, as a compelling and frequently hilarious teller of tall tales." June Jordan, Sunday New York Times Book Review

"[Lester's] retellings are as lively as the originals but they also have a liveliness of their own, as he incorporates modern allusions which never seem out of place." School Library Journal

"Lester's retellings are sharp and flavorful and grounded in the here and now." Booklist



Lovesong:Becoming A Jew, 1988 (Bullfinch Press)
This is the second volume of autobiography and covers some of the same material as All Is Well, but with the focus being on my spiritual journey. It is also a book about fathers and sons, my father and my being a single parent to my oldest son.

Awards

National Jewish Book Award Finalist

"...powerful and beautifully written." -- Library Journal

"...a moving memoir....Mr. Lester has paid attention, so it's worthy paying attention to him." -- New York Times Book Review

"A spiritual journey such as Lester's demands our respect." -- Richard Gilman, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"LOVESONG is possessed of a purity, intensity and warmth that make it sing and dance." New York Newsday

More Tales of Uncle Remus: Further Adventures of Brer Rabbit, His Friends, Enemies, and Others. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1988. (Puffin Books)
The title says it all.

Awards

American Library Association Notable Children's Book
The Horn Book Fanfare Honor Book

How Many Spots Does A Leopard Have and other Tales. Illustrations by David Shannon, 1989 (Scholastic Trade)
Retellings of twelve African, African-American and Jewish folktales with wonderful full page illustrations by David Shannon, the first children's book he illustrated.

Awards

New York Public Library "Children's Books: One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing," 1989

"Lester has done a splendid job of retelling these 12 folktales, 10 of which are African and 2 that have traditional Jewish origins. The retellings are of the highest order, fitting together like a well-made watch." -- School Library Journal (starred review)

"Lester is practiced at adaptation, respecting core elements while rejuvenating details with his own unobtrusive but distinctive style. Overall, the book is a strong foil for the classic European fairy tale collections that are flooding the market." -- Center for Children's Books

"Lester's retellings are beguiling and graceful, his language attuned to each story's nuances." -- Publishers Weekly

"The stories are told in the beautifully cadenced, deceptively colloquial, witty style that is Lester's trademark....a storyteller's treasure trove." -- Kirkus


Falling Pieces of the Broken Sky, 1990.
A collection of essays including essays on James Baldwin, Thomas Merton, Henry Miller, Huckleberry Finn, as well as race and the Holocaust. (Out of print)

"...I find this book to be a satisfying collection of what is both in and out of Lester's mind...a mind with much to offer, much to admire and much to confound. Lester often exhibits sagacity combined with a plainly attractive humaneness." -- Gerald Early, Newsday

"...Lester has slipped the surly bonds of race and soars into subjects well beyond the ethnic-free zone that white America delineates for black writers." -- San Francisco Examiner

"...Mr. Lester's writing...is often brilliant and almost always moving....Mr. Lester seems blessed, and cursed, with an intellectual and emotional restlessness that at its best provokes the reader to a renewed awareness of the great loneliness we each carry inside, and of the call to community that the painful singularity inevitably sounds in us all." -- Forward

"...a collection of brief and brilliantly written essays, the best of them firmly in the tradition of high rebelliousness begun by Henry David Thoreau. Lester's range is great from James Baldwin's anti-Semitism to the racist bent in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", from a rumination on safe sex (sex might be free of disease, he argues, but it will never be safe) to a defense of holiday blue laws." -- Boston Globe

"I'm too old to believe in lamed-vavniks -- the 36 righteous men -- but if I did, Julius Lester would be high on my list....If anyone wants to know how a lamed-vavnik might sound, he should read Julius Lester."
-- Anne Roiphe, The Jerusalem Report

The Last Tales of Uncle Remus. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Out of print)
This volume contains origin tales as well as tales about ghosts and witches, and of course, Brer Rabbit and the other animals.

"The fourth and concluding volume of skillful retellings of the traditional stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Possum and the other animals is wonderfully cadenced for reading aloud...." -- Sunday New York Times Book Review

The Man Who Knew Too Much. Illustrations by Leonard Jenkins, 1994.
A retelling of an African tale I first saw performed as a puppet play in Central Park. (Out of print)

"The story, based on a Baila legend from Zambia, is sure to draw howls of outrage because it frankly rewards ignorance and impulse with tragedy. That's the way the world works. Children know it; adults just don't want them to read it." -- Press Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.

"This incredible book tells the story of how murder came into the world. It also discusses the crime of taking the wonder out of the unknown." -- The Bloomsbury Review

And All Our Wounds Forgiven, 1994.
A novel about the civil rights movement told from the points of view of the white lover of a now martyred civil rights leader, his dying widow, and the voice of the now dead leader. (Out of print)

Awards
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

"Lester now belongs with writers like William Faulkner and Ralph Ellison who understood that the great American themes are to be found where race and sex intersect....This is an important book. Go read it."

-- David Nicholson, The Washington Post

"The story [Lester] tells pulls you in. It has the rough power of its own to recommend it and that's what I want to do: recommend it." -- National Public Radio, All Things Considered

"Lester's emotionally wrenching novel brings the civil rights movement full circle, and few readers will finish the book without a new perspective on the racial divisiveness that plagues America today." -- Publishers Weekly


John Henry. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
A retelling of the legend of the steel-drivin' man.

Awards

American Folklore Association, Aesop Prize Winner
American Library Association Notable Children's Book
Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
Caldecott Honor Book
Parent's Magazine Best Children's Book of the Year
1997 Nebraska Golden Sower's Award


"Lester freshens up the old story of the might black steel-driving man with zesty prose and hip humor." -- U.S. News and World Report

"This carefully crafted updating begs to be read aloud for its rich, rhythmic storytelling flow....a triumph of collaboration from the creators of the noted Uncle Remus retellings." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Like Lester's great collections of the Uncle Remus tales, the story is told with rhythm and wit, humor and exaggeration, and with a heart-catching immediacy that connects the human and the natural world." -- Booklist

"The successful melding of rich prose and challenging visual imagery should make this the preferred choice among extant print versions of the tale." -- The Bulletin


Othello: A Novel, 1995 (Point)
While this novelization of Shakespeare's play retains the basic story line, it changes certain elements, e.g. the setting is changed from Italy to Renaissance England, the character of Iago is African as is Othello, and an African past is created for them. The introduction goes into more detail as to the changes I made and why.

Awards

New York City Public Library's 1996 Books for the Teen Age
Young Adult Library Services Association, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list, 1996
Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee, 1998
South Carolina Book Award Nominee, 1997-98

"Those who were once intimidated by Shakespeare and die-hard fans alike will be pleasantly surprised by this re-telling of OTHELLO. The author's use of modern English and his insightful tracing of Othello's background, not contained in the original work, give the reader a more comprehensive look at Othello as he questions his racial identity. A worthwhile complement to Shakespeare's classic." -- American Bookseller

"...beautiful and powerful novelization of Shakespeare's play....[Lester's] prose is an incredibly skillful blend of his own words and Shakespeare's, both paraphrased and quoted directly, interwoven seamlessly into a narrative that transmutes the musical feeling of Shakespeare's language into modern English....This wonderful achievement is a must for all libraries." -- School Library Journal (starred review)

Sam and the Tigers, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, 1996 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
A retelling of Little Black Sambo which is more a reconceptualization than a retelling. I made it a coming-of-age story set in a mythical place where animals and people live on equal terms and everyone has the same name.

Awards

1999-2000 Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award
Master List

Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies and the Children's Book Council,

American Booksellers Pick of the List

Children's Books Mean Business 1998 title, American Book Association-Children's Book Council.

"...departs frequently and ingeniously from Bannerman's version...A hip and hilarious retelling that marries the essence of the original with an innovative vision of its own." Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

"Lester's prose...is rich in verbal imagery....Those who read 'Sam' for the first time wil love it for what it is: a cracking good story that is whimsical and fresh." Boston Sunday Globe

"The rolling, lilting narrative is a model of harmony, clarity, and meticulously chosen detail, accessible to listeners as well as to independent readers....those who approach this thoughtful and entirely appealing book with open hearts and minds are in for a wonderful time." School Library Journal (starred review)


From Slaveship to Freedom Road, Paintings by Rod Brown, 1998 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
Usually artists create illustrations for the text. In this book, I created text for the twenty paintings. Unlike TO BE A SLAVE, in which I created a historical narrative for the testimonies of ex-slaves, here the text is more personal and emotional.

Awards

International Reading Association Teachers' Choices
Parenting Magazine's Reading Magic Award
American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies
Booklist Youth Editors' Choices
Honor Book, 1998 CCBC Coretta Scott King Award Discussion: Author

"Perhaps the most daring and thought-provoking book of the year is FROM SLAVESHIP TO FREEDOM ROAD, in which Julius Lester's text speaks directly to readers, encouraging them to look closely at Rod Brown's paintings of slavery times, and to confront their own racism." CCBC Choices

"Lester has been preserving our tragic, occasionally triumphant, and still-ongoing history grippingly, sometimes humorously, for more than 30 years. Like a sonorous ground bass, here his text plays against the pyrotechnics of Brown's luminous color: Is it for children? Of course: Just this historical and spiritual heritage is what, in our better hours, we pass onto the young." Boston Sunday Globe

"...a text that reads like whispers from the slaves themslves....a powerful way for black and white Americans to confront our shared history. If we manage this confrontation, we may indeed save ourselves and our children from the past." Riverbank Review

"This moving book provides a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a slave. FROM SLAVESHIP TO FREEDOM ROAD is one of the most powerful and compelling books ever written for children on this subject, and no child whether black or white should be deprived from learning this historical account of one of the darkest periods of human civilization." The African Sun Times, New York

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1998 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
Bob Lemmons was a black cowboy who captured herds of wild horses by himself by ingratiating himself with the herd until they thought he was a horse. I first told this story in LONG JOURNEY HOME under the title, "The Man Who Was A Horse."

Awards:

International Reading Association Teachers' Choice
NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies
New York Public Library's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List


"The thunder of hoofbeats pounds on the page." New York Times

"Lester studs his seamless prose with powerful descriptions, such as when a hawk is 'suspended on cold threads of unseen winds,' or the mustangs sweep toward the corral as 'a dark surge of flesh flashing across the plains like black lightning.' Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"As always with Lester the descriptive language sings...." Washington Post Book World

Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales, with a new introduction. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1999 (Dial Books for Young Readers)
The four separate volumes of my retellings of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus tales are republished here as one book.

What A Truly Cool World, Illustrated by Joe Cepeda, 1999. (Scholastic)
A retelling of a Black creation story, introducing Shaniqua, the angel in charge of everybody's business, including God's.

"Blue Ribbon Book for 1999," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Best of the Year" List, Family Life magazine


"...unique, inspired and truly cool." School Library Journal (starred review)

"This is going to liven up the Bible stories shelf and make daring religious teachers very happy." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Lester's text is as jumping as a tune on the jukebox with enough slang to make the details of history's oldest tale seem very modern." Booklist (boxed review)

"Religiously...about as offbeat as you can get, but what comes shining through is a reverence for the spirituality that connects the universe, and a deeply felt appreciation for the miracle of beauty that is Earth." Family Life magazine Critics Choice

"Join God and his gang as you discover a world so cool that you'll feel truly privileged to live there." African Sun Times, New York

When the Beginning Began, illustrated by Emily Lisker, 1999. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
Midrash is a Hebrew word for stories which are created to augment Biblical tales. This books retells traditional Jewish stories and adds a few original ones to the story of creation through the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

American Bookseller's Association Pick of the Lists, 1999

Honor Book, Sydney Taylor Award, Association of Jewish Libraries



"Gloriously creative and witty, in WHEN THE BEGINNING BEGAN [Lester] combines the exuberance and rhythms of African-American folklore complete with its loving, lightly mocking, family-like relationship with God and his Jewish soul....a book to treasure. Rush out and buy it today!" Ottawa Jewish Bulletin

"A reverent, wise, witty, and wonderfully entertaining book...." The Horn Book

"...precise images, simple and lyrical cadence, and use of whimsical similes create dynamic moods." Booklist (starred review)

"Lester has brilliantly carried out his intention of 'using the imagination to explore a Biblical text.'"
VOYA

"...Lester's midrash is especially rich and thought-provoking." School Library Journal

"This book is exceptionally creative, whimsical and touching." National Jewish Post & Opinion

"Viewing God beyond traditional images becomes easier when you read Lester's humorous and provocative book. By tapping into children's wide capacity for imagination, families can follow Lester's cue and embark on a spiritual journey together." Quaker Life


Albidaro and the Mischievous Dream, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, 2000. (Phyllis Fogelman Books)
This is the story of what happens when children do whatever they want and whenever they want.

"Lester's inspired pen writes of 'a dream as happy as a butterfly's heart,' 'voices as small as bee's eyes,' and 'voices as soft as dragonfly tears....Lester's rollicking sense of humor will not be lost on children."

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel, 2000. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
The story of the young Moses and his older sister, Almah, who turns away from the religion of her parents to become an Egyptian priestess.

"Best Children's Books, 2000," Publishers Weekly
"Best of the Year," San Francisco Chronicle
"Best Children's Books of the Year, 2001," Bank Street College of Education
2000-2001 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List, Vermont

"...my son, a gluttonous reader who's fascinated by ancient Egypt, refused to sleep until he'd finished this one. But then his younger sister, only turned on to reading by Harry Potter, picked it up -- and noticed neither hunger nor parents calling her name till she'd read the last word. 'In other books, there are slow parts you push through to find out what happens,' she explained. 'Here every single page makes you want to read.' Remember, this was a comparison to the Supreme Rowling." Jerusalem Post

"...impeccably researched details...By painting the Khemetian and Habiru cultures as equally compelling, Lester reenacts an ancient society completely interdependent, with power struggles as potent as any in the modern world." Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed review)

"The magic of the story lies in how it confronts eternal questions: What do I believe? What is holy? Who am I and whom do I choose to be?....not just an imaginative piece of historical fiction but an intriguing look at the human need for spirituality." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"...creative and imaginative historical novel. The court of the Pharaoh and the environment in which the Hebrews labored are vividly brought to life through the eyes of Moses and his older sister." Middle East Resources: Information for Teaching about the Middle East at the Precollegiate Level

"...the setting and the vivid evocation of daily life in the ancient world make this book captivating." Newsday Sunday


The Blues Singers: Ten Who Rocked the World. Illustrations by Lisa Cohen, 2001. (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion)
A grandfather tells his granddaughter about ten blues singers from Bessie Smith to Aretha Franklin.

Best Children's Book Award list, Child Magazine
Best Children's Books of 2001 list, Los Angeles Times
Best Kids' Books, Miami (Fl.) Herald
Recommended Books, "James on Jazz," Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder

"Excellence wears many faces; this works as biography, as source material for school reports, and as compelling storytelling." Kirkus (starred review)

"Lester's anecdotal approach, his leisurely pacing and abundance of colorful down-home similes give the famous figures a tangible presence and make for a music history lesson that goes down as smoothly as honey." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The writing is rich and poetic." San Francisco Chronicle

"...smoothly written, entertaining text...." Minneapolis Star Tribune




When Dad Killed Mom, 2001. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
The story of a family is told in the first person voices of a 12 year old boy and his fourteen year old sister and the mother's diary which is discovered by the boy after her murder.

Awards

2002 Young Adult Library Services Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers List.

Teens Top 10 Books of 2001, survey conducted by YALSA

"...undeniably gripping...." The Horn Book

"Lester brings many attributes to his writing for young people: excellent research, a willingness to confront and present controversial topics, aesthetically whole characterizations, and insight on how young people's concerns do not necessarily match those of their elders. All of these attributes inform this novel...." School Library Journal

"The unerring authenticity of the voices of narrators Jeremy, 12, and his sister Jenna, 14, attest to Lester's authorial skill." Chicago Tribune

"Lester's exploration of the children's complicated mix of feelings -- especially Jenna' awakening sense of sexuality in the midst of sorting out her parents problems - is subtly and credibly done." Publisher's Weekly

Ackamarackus: Julius Lester's Sumptuously Silly Fantastically Funny Fables, Illustrated Emilie Chollat, 2001 (Scholastic)
Six original fables with ridiculous moral lessons. A silly, fun book.

A Reading Magic Award, Parenting Magazine

"Each of the six tales in this riotous collection features irrepressible animals, laugh-out-loud descriptions, alliterative language, turns of phrase that dance off the tongue, and two pithy morals brimming with wisdom and wit." School Library Journal

"Puns and alliteration abound in Lester's roundup of six zany, zippy tales....This is Lester at his most preposterous and playful." Publishers Weekly (starred review)






Why Heaven is Far Away, Illustrations by Joe Cependa, 2002 (Scholastic)
In What A Truly Cool World, God needed the help of Shaniqua, the Angel in Charge of Everybody's Business, to help him with creation. In this sequel he needs the help of Shaniqua and Mrs. God (her name is Irene) to do some fine tuning of creation.

Shining, Illustrations by John Clapp, 2003 (Harcourt Books)
A girl, as black as night, is born who is as quiet as the night. She knows how to speak, and yet she refuses to. What happens when she finally does?

The Autobiography of God, 2004, (St. Martin's Press)
Rabbi Rebecca Nachman is a rabbi without a synagogue. She works as a counselor at a small Vermont college. She comes into possession of a Torah scroll, the last relic of the village of Czechowa, a village of Polish Jews exterminated by the Nazis. Along with the scroll, Rebecca finds that the spirits of the murdered Jews have also come to live in her house and want her to be their rabbi. Then, one day they give her a scroll, God's autobiography. When she finishes reading it, she is told that God would like to visit and talk with her about it.

Furthering complicating Rebecca's life is the murder of a young woman at the college, a young woman who had come to Rebecca for counseling.

"Lester, author of the critically acclaimed novel, DO LORD REMEMBER ME, and the memoir LOVESONG, melds the classic college mystery with deeply theological ruminations on suffering and death....this novel is richly absorbing."

Publishers Weekly, October 25, 2004

"...a book that allows us to look deep into ourselves and our relationship with God -- and be renewed in our faith."

Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2004

"The manifestations of true evil are explored in this skillfully crafted novel about a contemporary woman's search for God....Lester, who has written so movingly of his own life's search for meaning (Lovesong: Becoming a Jew), makes Rebecca the symbol of all good people who search for spiritual meaning in a hate-filled world. But she is also a fully fleshed, living human being. This engrossing and powerful novel is recommended for most public libraries."

Library Journal, November 1, 2004

"Lester's irreverent and occasionally hilarious text...is fundamentally a tender and old-fashioned thing, a paen to the love of God....[The novel] reads as a present-day hymn to the promise of human creation and renewal."

Forward, December 17, 2004

"Few contemporary writers would have the chutzpah to pen God's autobiography, to shock reader sensibilities by demanding that we see the capacity for evil in the world, in ourselves, in God. But chutzpah is one commodity Lester has never been short of.

"He's also never been in finer form, challenging us with tough truths while managing to weave his tale's twisted threads into a satisfying whole, and creating in the process a road map of one Jew's journey to healing both God's grief and her own."

Hadassah Magazine, June/July 2005

Let's Talk About Race. Illustrated by Karen Barbour 2005 (Harper Collins/Amistad)
"I write because our lives are stories. If enough of those stories are told, then perhaps we will begin to see that our lives are the same story. The differences are merely in the details." Now Mr. Lester shares his own story as he explores what makes each of us special. Karen Barbour's dramatic vibrant paintings speak to the heart of Lester's unique vision, truly a celebration of all of us.

"A comforting direct address asks readers to think of themselves as stories, and to consider the elements of their own stories: families, favorite foods, hobbies, etc....The offering treads much of the same ground as bell hooks's Skin Again (2004), but its clear statement of its agenda much more successfully speaks to a child's concrete understanding of the world....the lighthearted, avuncular tone and vivid art combine to make a suprisingly effective package.

Kirkus Reviews

"This stunning picture book introduces race as just one of many chapters in a person's story....Lester's engaging tone is just right and his words are particularly effective, maintaining readers' interest and keeping them from becoming defensive....This wonderful book should be a first choice for all collections and is strongly recommended as a springboard for discussions about differences."

Starred Review, School Library Journal

"Adults unsure of how to begin talking about race will find in these pages a way to tap into the subject and the questions it raises. Lester addresses readers as if he is speaking to each in private conversation....Lester presents the wealth of human differences as a treasure trove of discovery."

Publishers Weekly


Awards and Honors

A 2005 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award

On Writing for Children and Other People, 2005 (Dial Books)
A look at the relationship between my life and my writing.

"This largely autobiographical volume resounds on multiple levels; Lester considers the meaning of writing, of storytelling, of imagination, of language, and, ultimately, of spirit as he travels with ease between conceptual exploration and intimate reflection on his own life and those of his ancestors....Told with a fluid, bantering style, this is a provocative, direct, and remarkably honest self-revelation that deserves extensive readership."

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Author of the Newbery Honor-winning To Be A Slave (1968) and many other fine works -- sometimes funny, sometimes forceful, always thought-provoking - Lester tells his own story here....Older readers, teachers, librarians, and parents who are passionate about connecting books and children will find much support and food for thought here. A must for anyone who lives a life immersed in books and stories."

Kirkus Reviews

Junior Library Guild Selection, Fall 2004

Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, 2005, (Hyperion Books)
A novel based on the story of the largest slave auction in American history. The auction took place in Savannah, Georgia, over a two day period. When the auction began, there was a torrential downpour. The rain stopped a few minutes after the auction ended. Through flashbacks and flashforwards in shifting first-person narratives, readers travel with Emma, a slave girl sold that day, and others through time.

2006 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
2006 Capitol Choice Noteworthy Book for Children
VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle Grade Readers
2006 Cooperative Children's Book Center Best-of-the-Best List
Boston Authors Club Finalist for Young Readers
Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth
Booklist Editor's Choice 2005
Booklist Top Ten Black History
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2005
New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing 2005


"...the novel provides a compelling opportunity for children to
step into the shoes of those whose lives were torn apart by slavery."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

"...Lester provides a frequently surprising variety of responses to the events of the day and their larger import, giving even the most heinous actors some understanding if not sympathy."

The Horn Book

"Lester returns to his project of putting a human face on the history of American slavery in this powerful fictionalization of the largest slave auction ever recorded....This will make for a stunning readers' theater or dramatic reading in classes or book groups, and it will ocassion equally stunning discussion afterward."

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"By not limiting the book to one viewpoint and by using an alternate format, Lester makes this book highly appealing to all readers. Whether the reader agrees with the characters' thoughts, there is no dispute to the oetic, lyrical quality of the writing or the inability to feel any one thing about any one of the characters."

Voice of Youth Advocates

"...one of Lester's finest works."

Starred Review Kirkus Reviews

2006 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, Children's
Literature Assembly of National Council of Teachers of English

The Old African. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial Books) 2005
In 1972 I published, Long Journey Home, a book of stories based on true incidents from slavery. The title story was based on a legend about a place in Georgia called Ybo Landing, where, the story went, a group of Ybos walked into the ocean, saying they were going to walk back to Africa.

The story haunted me for many years and, in 1999, I returned to the story, only this time with the intention of taking those slaves home to Africa.

Best Books for Children, Bank Street College of Education
Honor Award in Children's Literature, 2006 Massachusetts Book Award
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best List, 2006
Honor Book for Older Readers, African Studies Association

"The triumph over oppression is in the unforgettable words and pictures of individual people and the connections between them."

Starred Review Booklist

"Whips sink into bare flesh and red blood glistens in Lester's painfully vivid, four-part story of the horrors of slavery that evolves into a fantastical escape myth.,,,Lester's prose is powerful and poetic, and Pinkney outdoes himself in hauntingly expressive, often wordless double-page paintings that masterfully capture the strength and suffering of the African people."

Starred Review Kirkus Reviews

"Based on legend, this story by frequent collaborators Lester and Pinkney moves gracefully and affectingly frfom darkness into light....By not shying away from the realities of these characters' daily lives, Lester and Pinkney make their victory all the greater."

Starred Review Publishers Weekly

"Lester weaves a tale of loss and redemption in his imaginative extrapolation from legend....Lester's prose is luminous and dreamlike throughout as he mingles the earthy horrors of the ignominious treatment of the people with the Old African's hard-tried faith and perseverance."

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"This disturbing, exquisite book should become a resource for upper-level classes in American history and culture....A flawless marriage of Lester's poetic words and Pinkney's breathtaking artwork, this life-affirming story of faith, courage and miracles is based on a legende and infused with magical realism."

Voice of Youth Advocates

"...The Old African's strength lies in its specific, unblinking detail and Lester's signature informality of style."

The Horn Book


Time's Memory 2006 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
"I lay within the body of the woman who was called Amina and I listened to the silences between the beats of hearts that beat no more and the wind in breaths that no longer breathed. I saw with eyes that were only sockets in skulls. Though I was no larger than the twinkle of a star, I already knew that lives did not consist only of what happened during one's brief span of years. No. Each person is the sum of the generations that went before, generations of people whose names have been forgotten, whose faces have sunk below where memory can go. Yet those generations live within everyone, pulsating with each heartbeat and each breath."

"While supernatural spiritual threads often weave their way into tales of escape from slavery, including Lester's own recent The Old African, this book is notable for the way in which the author brings the godly to the human....All the characters here are fully formed, from Nat's father, with a hate so strong he becomes as violent as his oppressors, to the slave master plagued by guilt and his own forbidden love. Ultimately, this is a novel of healing, and a seeming culmination of Lester's scholarship and faith in humanity. Not to be missed."


A 2006 Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner

"...this book is notable for the way in which the author brings the godly to the human realm....Ultimately, this is a novel of healing, and a seeming culmination of Lester's scholarship and faith in humanity. Not to be missed."

Starred and boxed review, Publishers Weekly


"Julius Lester has long been a voice for the voiceless, a chronicler of the lives of the countless American slaves whohave been overlooked by history. In Time's Memory, a historical fable for young adults, Lester gives voice to the restless spirits of those dead, forgotten slaves, and in the process, offers them one possible path toward peace....Adolescents, often preoccupied with questions about the meaning of life, death and the afterlife, wil find plenty to ponder here while learning about the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery....despite the sometimes brutal action and gruesome images, the spirits of the characters shine through, which is, after all, exactly what Lester is trying to accomplish."

The Washington Post

"...a keen tale of communion with the past that should serve as an example for contemporary readers."

Kirkus Reviews

"Lester realistically portrays the horrors of slavery at the time immediately preceding the Civil War....the voices of the characters ring true and Ekundayo's quest to bring peace is compelling."

Language Arts

"Lester is such an awesome storyteller."

Lyre Review

"Though the subject matter is heartwrenching, the ending is very satisfying -- an excellent springboard for class discussion."

Skipping Stones, A Multicultural Magazine

Awards and Honors

Bank Street College "The Best Children's Books of the Year 2007"

Skipping Stones Honor Award

Boston Authors Club Recommended Title for Young Readers

2007 New York City Public Library "Best Books for the Teen Age" list.

Chicago Public Library "Best of the Best Books for 2006" list

2007 National Council for the Social Studies-Children's Book Council (NCSS-CBC) Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People




Cupid: A Novel, (Harcourt, January, 2007)
I retell the story of Cupid and Psyche in the voice of a southern black storyteller. In the process of doing so, I bring together practically all of the tales in mythology about Cupid, as well as several tales involving his mother, Venus. It's a book I had enormous fun researching and writing. Publication date is January, 2007.

"Well-attuned to the current zeitgest on love, Lester creates a practical navigational chart for those newly embarking on romances story seas."

Hornbook

"This is a great story. This particular retelling had me laughing hysterically. It's hilarious! If mythology had been available in this form when I was studying it, I definitely wouldn't have gotten a 'D'."

Teensreadtoo.com

"For fans of romance and mythology, this is highly entertaining."

Publishers Weekly

Awards and Honors

VOYA'S Perfect Tens List, 2007

"Lester demonstrates his versatility in this fresh and funny take on Cupid...."

Guardian (Amistad, Harper Teens), 2008


Being born in 1939, I grew up at a time when lynchings still occurred in the south. Since my college years I have had in my mind to write a novel about a lynching, but, from the point of view of the lynchers, not the lynch.

The time to write that novel came when I was in my late sixties, and I chose to write it from the point of view of a fourteen year old white boy.

"This is perhaps the best book I've read in all my life. It's about some people, white & black, in a small town in the deep south. Some in power, some powerless. Some trying to get away, some giving up their hopes and trying to stay alive. And then the horrifying things that can happen if we don't reach out and seek ways to make changes.

I've known Julius Lester since we were both much younger. How glad I am that he has found time to get these true stories on paper. Our whole country will benefit from his work. Perhaps our whole world."

Pete Seeger

"By weaving thoughts, actions, emotions and places, Julius Lester will lead readers on an unsettling journey. Julius paints a power picture in words. He uses language that both arresting and poetic in such a manner that you will be transported into a culture and time which we had refused to see. GUARDIAN is a metaphorical crowbar that will pry eyes open."

Jerry Pinkney

GUARDIAN, Julius Lester's unflinching portrait of a lynching, offers a parade of characters as complex as the topic itself. There are no simple good guys or bad guys here. These characters are weak, warped, and wounded. In other words, they are painfully human, and the dastardly choices, they make are rooted in a kind of twisted logic we Americans are all too familiar with. And yet, in the fading embers of the hellish bonfire that burns as an innocent man is tortured and killed, Lester manages to challenge us to bear witness to the ugliness which resides in each of us, to not only confront it, but to feel the scorching pain of it so that we will be less likely to ever give in to such ugliness again. This pain, in other words, is a good pain -- if we choose to use it in the right way, as Lester's protagonist does.

GUARDIAN is not only brave, but it is necessary. This is a book that need to be read."

Nikki Grimes

"...the author's understated, haunting prose is as compelling as it is dark...the story leaves a deep impression."

Publishers Weekly

"This is a gripping, striking novel of lynching told from the point of view of a white teen boy who witnesses the hate crime....Lester's language is lyrical, somber and almost languid with the heat of the South. He takes the time to examine each person in the story down to their soul....It is a powerful book for all that it says without being didactic and preaching....This powerful book with its amazing writing is also invitingly short. One of the most powerful novels on race I have ever read."

Menasha Kids, http:/​/​kidslit.menashalibrary.org


"Lester, who has given us searing portraits of slavery in recent works (THE OLD AFRICAN, DAY OF TEARS, TIME'S MEMORY), turns to a different chapter of history - lynching in the Jim Crow South - with equally devastating effect....The writing is lyrical, the subject is dark, and the ethical dilemmas will keep readers riveted. A small novel with a big punch."

The Horn Book

"GUARDIAN is an anatomy of a lynching. This is an uncompromising story about the power of domination, set in the fictional Southern town of Davis in 1946. It is forever a challenge for those seeking to change the world...to help people learn how to feel better about themselves without having to hate or dominate others. It is so often through exceptional children's and young adult literature that readers come to recognize that which is not so apparent in the real world. It is sometimes through such exceptional books that a reader's life will be forever altered.

"GUARDIAN is one of those books."

Richie's Picks, http:/​/​richiespicks.com

2008 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
Cooperative Children's Book Center choice for 2009


The Hungry Ghosts, 2009
When Malcolm David hears strange sounds in the air outside his bedroom window, he knows they are ghosts. Although he's frightened, he is also curious. The next night he sneaks out to the cemetery. It's dark and spooky there, and Malcolm David learns that there are, indeed, ghosts, and they are hungry!

This book grew out of a story I made up when visiting friends in Kentucky, and their children and mine came back from picking black berries, and I told them that the blackberry ghosts were going to get them. Of course, 30 or so years passed between that night and writing this book.

Booklist

"An ideal choice for Halloween storytimes."

School Library Journal

"The story is clever and charming and will give families another choice for Halloween, or ease little ones' fears of ghosts....The tale is rich and complex."

Publishers Weekly

"Lester's sentences resonate with the rhythms of oral storytelling....The story combines realism with fantasty. Lester prose makes even falling down a fresh experience ('With one foot wanting to go forward and the other foot wanting to go backward, and him just wanting to go, he tripped and fell.')."

Selected Works

History
Folk Tales
The Last Tales of Uncle Remus. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Out of print)
The last volume in the retellings of the Uncle Remus tales.
When the Beginning Began, illustrated by Emily Lisker, 1999. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
Traditional retellings and original stories around the creation story in Genesis
Fiction
Long Journey Home, 1972 (Dial Books For Young Readers)
Short stories based on true stories from Black history.
This Strange New Feeling, 1982 (Scholastic Paperbacks)
Three love stories based on true stories from slavery.
Do Lord Remember Me, 1984
A novel inspired by my father's life
And All Our Wounds Forgiven, 1994.
A novel about the civil rights movement and suggested by the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Othello: A Novel, 1995 (Point)
A novelization of the Shakespeare play.
Pharaoh's Daughter: A Novel, 2000. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A story about the young Moses growing up in ancient Egypt.
When Dad Killed Mom, 2001. (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
A novel about what happens to a brother and sister when their father murders their mother.
The Autobiography of God, 2004, (St. Martin's Press)
A novel that probes the question why evil can exist if God is omnisicient, omnipresent, and All-Good.
Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, 2005, (Hyperion Books)
A novel in dialogue about the largest slave auction in American history.
Time's Memory 2006 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A novel about an nyama (spirit) that comes to the United States on a slave ship.
Cupid: A Novel, (Harcourt, January, 2007)
A retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Poetry and Photography
Autobiography
Lovesong:Becoming A Jew, 1988 (Bullfinch Press)
Story of my spiritual odyssey to Judaism.
On Writing for Children and Other People, 2005 (Dial Books)
A literary memoir discussing the relationship between my life and my writing
Picture Book
John Henry. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney, 1994. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
The first picture book collaboration with Jerry Pinkney
Shining, Illustrations by John Clapp, 2003 (Harcourt Books)
A fable about what a young girl learns from silence.
Non-Fiction
Let's Talk About Race. Illustrated by Karen Barbour 2005 (Harper Collins/Amistad)
A book in which I talk personally about race and how to think about it. Wonderful illustrations by Karen Barbour.