Doreen Rappaport is the author of numerous nonfiction and historical fiction books for children which attempt to convey American and world history to children ages four to seventeen. As a young woman Rappaport was a music and reading teacher, first in the ethnically diverse New York City and New Rochelle public schools, and later in a Southern "freedom school" for African-American students. Teaching in the Freedom School in McComb, Mississippi, was what first inspired Rappaport to write about history. The African-Americans she met in Mississippi "were heroic" in their struggle to secure their rights, Rappaport wrote on her Web site. "I knew there had to be many more 'unknown heroes,' people who helped change history. I set out to recover and write about this 'lost' history."
Many of Rappaport's books draw heavily on primary sources and integrate historical figures' own words into the text. Rappaport and illustrator Shane W. Evans collaborated on one such trilogy, about the black experience in America from the kidnappings in Africa to the civil rights movement. In the first book of the trilogy, No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, Rappaport uses this technique to tell the stories of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner, and other African Americans. In a few vignettes, Rappaport sticks less closely to history, creating composite characters and fictionalized accounts. "But the research is documented," Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist, so students who need factual information for reports can draw on Rappaport's bibliography. In addition to the narratives, Rappaport also uses folktales and songs which were told and sung by African Americans. The collection of actual and fictional narratives, stories, and songs forms "an excellent account of the many ways in which slaves participated in bringing down the greatest evil in our nation's history," thought a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
In the second book, Free at Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation, Rappaport and illustrator Shane W. Evans "reprise the passion and power that informed" No More!, wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Free at Last! covers African-American culture from 1863 to 1954. Again, Rappaport tells the stories of famous African Americans (such as intellectual Booker T. Washington and baseball player Jackie Robinson) and some less-famous ones, interspersed with writings by African Americans (including gospel songs and Langston Hughes's famous poem "I, Too, Sing America"). As with No More!, the book includes an extensive bibliography and further reading list for children who are researching reports.
Moving to an earlier period of U.S. history, in Victory or Death! Stories of the American Revolution Rappaport and coauthor Joan Verniero tell the stories of eight famous and not-yet celebrated participants in the Revolutionary War. Although they cover such well-known figures as General George Washington and future first lady Abigail Adams, Rappaport and Verniero also write about multicultural figures on both sides, including Francis Salvador, a Jew from South Carolina who risked his life to rally his neighbors to the Patriot cause, and Grace Growden Galloway, a Philadelphia loyalist who attempted to defend her family's property from the rebellious Colonists. "Each chapter is very short and relies on vivid characterization," noted Booklist's GraceAnne A. DeCandido, making it a good introduction to Revolutionary history for younger children. The narratives are arranged chronologically and "each story is set in its historical context," a critic commented in Kirkus Reviews, so "readers will learn a good deal of history and gain a sense of the ebb and flow of the war."
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an atypical biography right from the start. Instead of the title and author information, the cover features nothing but a close-up portrait of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As in her other books, "the text is a mix of Rappaport's finely honed biographical narrative and appropriate quotes from King himself," explained Horn Book's Mary M. Burns. Although the text is designed for early readers, with short, simple sentences, it still covers all of the major events in King's life, from his childhood as the son of a preacher in segregated Atlanta to his assassination. The title refers to the young King's determination to speak with big words just like his father did, but could also refer to the large-type font in which King's quotations are printed, noted reviewers. Martin's Big Words is "a stunning, reverent tribute" to Dr. King, concluded School Library Journal contributor Catherine Threadgill.
Based on a historical event but told through a fictional story, Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women Who Won the World Championship offers readers an account of the 1946 championship game of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Formed in 1942, the league provided much-needed entertainment on the home front during and after World War II. In Dirt on Their Skirts, coauthored with Lyndall Callan, a young girl named Margaret watches the game from the stands with her mother, her brother, and her father, recently returned from the war. Finding Racine Belles second basewoman Sophie Kurys a favorite, Margaret is thrilled when Kurys steals second base and eventually slides into home to win the game, a tough play, as Margaret's mother comments, if you are wearing a skirt. "With its economy of language and telling period details, this book provides an exciting slice of sports history and an appealing bit of Americana," Luann Toth wrote in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic commended Rappaport for "judiciously using end matter to relate a historical overview of the league," information which is useful for children to understand the importance of the story. By relegating the historical facts to the afterword, the Publishers Weekly reviewer continued, Rappaport and Callan can "serve up a fan's view of the game."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Black Issues Book Review, January-February, 2002, Clarence V. Reynolds, review of Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 80.
Booklist, September 1, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of The Lizzie Borden Trial, pp. 45-46; August, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of Tinker vs. Des Moines: Student Rights on Trial, p. 2048; January 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of The Alger Hiss Trial, p. 815; January 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Long-Haired Girl: A Chinese Legend, p. 933; May 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The New King, pp. 1577-1578; July, 1997, Karen Hutt, review of The Flight of Red Bird: The Life of Zitkala-Sa, p. 1810; January 1, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women Who Won the World Championship, p. 936; October 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Freedom River, p. 341; October 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 338; February 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, p. 1033; October 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of We Are the Many: A Picture Book of American Indians, pp. 408-409; June 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Victory or Death! Stories of the American Revolution, p. 1770; February 14, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Free at Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation, p. 1076.
Book Report, January-February, 1994, Edna Boardman, review of Tinker vs. Des Moines, pp. 61-62.
Childhood Education, fall, 2002, Nancy S. Maldonado, review of Freedom River, pp. 63-64.
Horn Book, March-April, 1987, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 212; September-October, 1988, Mary M. Burns, review of The Boston Coffee Party, pp. 623-624; March-April, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of American Women: Their Lives in Their Words, p. 219; November-December, 1991, Margaret A. Bush, review of The Journey of Meng: A Chinese Legend, pp. 748-749; January-February, 2002, Mary M. Burns, review of Martin's Big Words, pp. 105-106; March-April, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of No More!, pp. 231-232.
Instructor, March, 1994, Judy Freeman, review of Living Dangerously: American Women Who Risked Their Lives for Adventure, p. 79.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 1120; January 1, 2002, review of No More!, p. 49; August 15, 2002, review of We Are the Many, p. 1233; April 1, 2003, review of Victory or Death!, p. 539; December 15, 2003, review of Free at Last!, p. 1454.
Language Arts, May, 2002, Mingshui Cai and Junko Yokata, review of No More!, p. 433; September, 2002, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 72.
New Yorker, November 26, 1990, Faith McNulty, review of American Women, p. 144.
New York Times Book Review, May 17, 1987, Lee Smith, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 33; April 10, 1988, Elisabeth Griffith, review of The Boston Coffee Party, p. 39; January 13, 1991, Elizabeth Gleick, review of American Women, p. 21; November 18, 2001, James McMullan, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1987, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 96; March 22, 1991, review of Escape from Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom, p. 81; August 30, 1991, review of The Journey of Meng, pp. 82-83; October 11, 1991, review of Living Dangerously, p. 64; February 27, 1995, review of The Long-Haired Girl, p. 103; June 12, 1995, review of The New King, pp. 60-61; March 27, 2000, review of Dirt on Their Skirts, p. 79; October 8, 2001, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 64; December 17, 2001, review of No More!, p. 91.
Reading Teacher, November, 2002, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 259.
Reading Today, February-March, 2002, Lynne T. Burke, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 32.
School Library Journal, April, 1987, Mary Beth Burgoyne, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 102; May, 1988, Sylvia S. Marantz, review of The Boston Coffee Party, p. 87; February, 1991, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of American Women, p. 100; May, 1991, Elizabeth M. Reardon, review of Escape from Slavery, pp. 105-106; December, 1991, April L. Judge, review of Living Dangerously, p. 127, and John Philbrook, review of The Journey of Meng, pp. 126-127; January, 1993, Sylvia V. Meisner, review of The Lizzie Borden Trial, p. 120; March, 1993, Beth Tegart, review of The Sacco-Vanzetti Trial, p. 216; January, 1994, Doris A. Fong, review of Tinker vs. Des Moines, p. 128; February, 1994, Todd Morning, review of The Alger Hiss Trial, p. 128; March, 1995, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Long-Haired Girl, pp. 199-200; July, 1995, Donna L. Scanlon, review of The New King, p. 74; July, 1997, Lisa Mitten, review of The Flight of the Red Bird, p. 111; March, 2000, Luann Toth, review of Dirt on Their Skirts, p. 212; October, 2000, Cynde Marcengill, review of Freedom River, p. 152; October, 2001, Catherine Threadgill, review of Martin's Big Words, p. 146; February, 2002, Ginny Gustin, review of No More!, p. 150; September, 2002, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of We Are the Many, p. 217; June, 2003, Jean Gaffney, review of Victory or Death!, p. 168; February, 2004, Tracy Bell, review of Free at Last!, p. 168.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (February, 2004), Heidi Henneman, interview with Rappaport.
Doreen Rappaport Web Site, http://www.doreenrappaport.com/ (January 14, 2002).*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyDoreen Rappaport Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress