Brief Description: Picture book biography of self-taught African American man, who publishes an almanac and writes a letter to Thomas Jefferson to accuse him of hypocrisy.
Historical Era: 18th Century
Date Range: 1791-1806 (lifespan)
Original Publication: 1994
Suitable for Grades: 1-4th
Target Audience: Picture Book
Author Andrea Davis Pinkney’s factual note at the beginning of the text reveals the remarkable life of African American Benjamin Banneker, self-taught mathematician and astronomer, in this picture book biography, finely illustrated by the author’s husband, Brian Pinkney. Born a free person in Maryland, he tended to his parents’ tobacco farm as a young man. It was hard work, but his wonder at the movement of the stars through the night sky compelled him to study at night. Based on his learning and observations, he was able to publish an almanac, the success of which allowed him to eventually quit tobacco farming and pursue his interests.
Contemplating the sad fact that illiterate African Americans would not be able to use his almanac, Banneker confidently wrote a letter to then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, in which he pointed out Jefferson’s hypocrisy of owning slaves while proclaiming that “all men are created equal.” In his response, the future president wrote of his hope for a better future. Though this book is a great introduction to a remarkable man for its intended young audience, it leaves out so many of the feats and accomplishments of this fascinating man. More about Benjamin Banneker can be learned from the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.