I first heard about this book at the 2016 ALA Annual Convention and had the good fortune to hear Bryan Collier talk about Stephen Bishop, a slave, who served as a guide in the largest cave system in the Unied States, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Bryan Collier described watching a video of the Mammoth Cave pathways and he told us he choked just looking at the path going down, down, into the darkness.
Stephen Bishop guided groups through Mammoth Cave in the 1830s. He was so famous even the Queen of England knew his name. As a slave, he wasn't allowed to be taught to read and write. As a slave he was owned and could be bought and sold like oxen on the plantation. That was all above ground.
But down in the darkness of the Cave, Stephen Bishop was a man. He taught himself to read and write. This is the story of the courage of this exceptional man.
Bryan Collier ignored his own claustrophobia to descend into this extraordinary world. He went to explore this place of darkness that gave light to the life of this great man so his illustrations would resonate with all the danger and the oppression and the strength.
It's amazing what seeing history through the eyes of an individual can teach. The beautifully powerful illustrations invite you to imagine if you would have walked those dark passages and squeezed through those threateningly tight spaces. They take you to a place where you experience for yourself what it would be like to find a place where you could claim dignity, self-respect, and the right to read and write. Would you have been that brave?
Imagine the strength of character Stephen Bishop had to have the courage to walk the paths, to lead others into darkness and danger, and to know he deserved to be treated as the equal of any man even though the world above ground was telling him otherwise.
A beautiful, powerful way to give our young readers an exceptionally empathetic path to truly appreciating our history and all of its dark mistakes and guiding lights.
Bryan Collier gives us not only a doorway to our history and the depth of the caves but as you turn the pages you come to see that Stephen Bishop's spirit is still there with its courage, its intelligence and its triumph.
978-1481420952 Ages 6-10 32 pages
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com