LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Featured title: Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree
Author: William Miller
Illustrators: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Synopsis: The true story of the famous African American writer, Zora Neale Hurston, who as a young girl learned about hope and strength from her mother.
Awards and honors:
- Reading Rainbow Selection, PBS Kids
- Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
- Pick of the List, American Bookseller’s Association
- Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, NCSS/CBC
The story behind the story:
Since 1994, William Miller has published nine picture books with Lee & Low, in addition to several titles with other publishing houses. He made his picture book debut with Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree, which was a “Reading Rainbow” selection, and which Booklist praised as being “lyrically told.”
“I started out as a poet who wrote poems about famous African American writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Frederick Douglass. My high school English teacher, who is also a children’s book author, encouraged me to write a picture book based on my poems. I expanded a poem on Hurston’s life and simplified the language for children. I sent the manuscript out when I felt I had written the best possible, most poetic story I could tell.
I’ve taught African American literature for many years at York College in Pennsylvania. Personally, I am drawn to the themes of struggle, renewal, and celebration in the literature I teach. No matter how many times I teach the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, I find something new, something that inspires me to live my life on a higher level.”
(from an interview with William Miller)
Resources for teaching with Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree:
Learn more about Zora Hurston:
Additional LEE & LOW titles by William Miller:
- The Bus Ride
- Frederick Douglass and the Last Day of Slavery
- A House by the River
- Joe Louis, My Champion
- Night Golf
- The Piano
- Rent Party Jazz
- Richard Wright and the Library Card
- Pretend you are Zora’s friend. Write her a letter encouraging her to remember her dreams and to find a way to keep her promise to her mother.
- After students have read the story, arrange them into groups of four. Explain to them that the members of each group will take turns adding leaves to a “Tree of Dreams.” Provide each group with a large sheet of butcher paper on which you have drawn the outline of a tree. Tell students that they will take turns drawing leaves on the branches of the tree. Inside each leaf, they will each write a dream. The students may take turns until they have run out of ideas or class time. Use the trees as a “Forest of Dreams” to facilitate a discussion of dreams and aspirations. Be sure to display the “Forest of Dreams” in the classroom.
Have you used Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree? Let us know!
Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.