Maritcha: A Remarkable Nineteenth-Century Girl

Bolden, Tonya. Maritcha: A Remarkable Nineteenth-Century Girl. 2004. 48pp. Lexile 1190.

Much of what teens read about black history concerns slavery, racial bias, and/or the Civil Rights Movement.  This short, inspiring book offers a look at a girl in a middle class family in the nineteenth century.  Maritcha Remond Lyons, whose striking image looks out at readers from a photograph on the cover, was born in 1848 to parents who ran a prosperous boarding house in New York City.  When their business was ruined by the Draft Riots during the Civil War, they moved to Providence, R.I., where her father started an ice cream and catering business, and her mother worked as a hairdresser.  When Maritcha found that Providence had no high school open to blacks, she wouldn't accept being shut out of an education.  She took her cause to the legislature and succeeded in persuading them of the justness of her cause, after which she passed a rigorous entry exam.  She went on to become a teacher and then an assistant principal in Brooklyn for fifty years.  Bolden based this eye-opening book on an unpublished memoir Lyons wrote for her own family.  The book, which puts the subject’s life in historical context, is enriched with wonderful photographs and etchings from the era. An author’s note discusses Bolden's research and some of her decisions about what to include in the book.

Reading Std #2: Determine central ideas or themes and analyze their development; summarize key supporting details and ideas.  Although Maritcha Remond Lyons as a free black was in a better position than those who were slaves when she was born, she and her family nevertheless suffered from racism in a variety of ways.  Have students trace that racism through this short book, a task possible even for less skilled readers.

Fiction Tie-In  Maritcha's family lost their business during New York's Draft Riots.  The novel Riot by Walter Dean Myers uses a screenplay format in its dramatic look at the riots through the eyes of several characters, most importantly, a biracial girl whose family runs an inn in Manhattan.