Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Mamie Phipps Clark Champion For Children by Lynnette Mawhinney

 I was in the library yesterday and had to smile when a young girl in front of me asked the librarian if she could take her to the 'real things' section. The librarian smiled and offered the term nonfiction, and the girl nodded. 

My siblings and I loved nonfiction when we were kids, and my kids aren't any different. That's why I'm always excited to share any nonfiction books, which happen across my small radar...too bad there aren't more. Maybe, I have to change my radar. So, there's a smile on my face as I pick up today's read. Not only is this one a biography about a woman I hadn't heard about before, but it's even in graphic novel form. I am curious to see how this goes and am looking forward to learning something new.

So, let's open the cover and see what's inside.

by Lynnette Mawhinney
Illustrated by Neil Evans
Magination Press
Middle Grade Biography 
Graphic Novel
144 pages
ages 8 to 12

This inspiring graphic novel tells the story of groundbreaking psychologist and civil rights activist Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD and her research in the racial identity and development of self in Black children, the work that ultimately played a vital role in the landmark  Brown v. Board of Education case.

Part of American Psychological Association's Extraordinary Women in Psychology series.

Mamie was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, during a time when United States laws intentionally disadvantaged Black people and permitted racial segregation. This profoundly impacted her life and work and  instilled in her an unstoppable force to champion for Black children. Mamie made a difference with science – she studied math and psychology at Howard University. She was first Black woman to graduate from Columbia University with a doctorate degree in psychology. Mamie expanded her earlier master's research into the famous black-doll/white-doll experiments that exposed the negative effects of racial segregation in children. Along with her research partner and husband, Kenneth Clark, Mamie became expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, which effectively ended racial segregation in school. Mamie dedicated her life to advocate for children who deserved more than what society offered them and she built the Northside Center in Harlem, NY to support children with special needs, academic programs, and mental health services. 

Filled with interesting news stories and thought-provoking activities, this book encourages readers to carry on Mamie’s legacy and become champions for themselves and others in their community.  


Biographies for middle graders, especially when it concerns a person who is often overlooked in history recounts due to 'subtle' accomplishments (for example, not the 1st to land on the moon), can be difficult to get right, it seems, but these pages not only bring Mamie Phipps Clark's accomplishments to life, they offer so much more and work with readers in a way to bring thought and fun.

This book is all about Mamie Phipps Clark, a woman who was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where a lynching hit very close to home. Determined to help in some way, she managed to enter college and worked her way up to become the first Black woman to graduate from Columbia University with a doctorate in psychology. From there, she performed research, which exposed the light in which Black children saw themselves, and later, was able to use this information in the historic case to end school segregation.

The author has slid this biography into a graphic novel and let each scene play out with the flow of life and very few information drops. This makes Mamie easy to relate with and the scenes more 'real' than if the facts were simply dropped. The historic setting also comes across nicely thanks to the lovely illustrations. 

The read is divided into six chapters, each surrounding a step in Mamie's life. While the first covers her childhood and the lynching, the others follow her as she gets older and, obviously, spend most time in her adult years, education, family balancing, struggles, and accomplishments. While nicely done, it still is the more difficult area for readers to connect with, but the author gives extra effort by sliding interesting information, activities, explanations, examples, and more between each chapter...and not just a page or two. These are written with a casual atmosphere and speak to the reader, while offering a connection to the story. For example, a short version of Mamie's research questions is given to readers to try themselves. Or readers are given challenge to do a little history and information digging about a school near them. It broadens the understanding and perspective, while offering a change-up from a simple, dry life story.

This is a well-thought out read surrounding the life of Mamie Phipps Clark and does a wonderful job at incorporating the reader.  It would work especially well for a theme in a group setting but is nice for individual readers as well. 

And here she is...

Lynnette Mawhinney, PhD, is Professor of Urban Education at Rutgers University-Newark and affiliated faculty in Africana Studies. She helps to prepare future urban teachers for the classroom, and her academic research focuses on retention and recruitment of teachers of color and diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in K-12 urban schools. She is an award-winning author and scholar of seven books. Her first children's book, Lulu The One and Only, received a starred review from Kirkus. She lives in New Jersey.

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