Multiculturalism Rocks! Children’s Book Review: Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Author: Arisa White and Laura Atkins
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Publisher: Heyday
Age Range: 10 and up

I am both thrilled and honored to review this week’s book selection, Biddy Mason
Speaks Up. Part of the Fighting for Justice series spear-headed by Atkins for
Heyday Books, she and White have a shining achievement in capturing the trials
and triumphs of one of California’s first civil rights activist, Bridget “Biddy” Mason.
The story starts with Biddy as a young girl foraging through the woods with Granny 
Ellen; the woman who has become a mother figure since Biddy was sold into
slavery and away from her mother as a baby. Granny Ellen is teaching Biddy about
herbs, a skill that will become of much use to Biddy throughout her life.

"Even though Granny isn't allowed to read or write, she knows how to read plants."
It is this knowledge of medicinal plants and midwifery that is the beginning 
stages of Biddy understanding the importance of helping people; even when you
don’t have much yourself. She further learns about community when her master
forces her and her girls to walk from Mississippi to Great Salt Lake, Utah, and then
to San Bernadino, California. Unlike the most of the country at this time,
California had been declared a free state. It's here she would meet a freed black
family, the Owens, who would orchestrate the freedom of Biddy and her two girls
when her master tries to move them to Texas.
“There will be a trial. Robert Smith is accused of taking Biddy, Hannah, and their
children by force from California.”
When her lawyer doesn’t appear for trial, Mason is given the rare opportunity to 
speak for herself in the judge’s chambers. It is through her own words that she and
her family are granted freedom.  
Mason would go on to become a powerful force in the development of the city of
Los Angeles. Through her philanthropy, she would also become the richest woman
– woman, not Black woman – in the city. All of these accomplishments would stem
from this belief that Granny Ellen had taught her as a child:
“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is
blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.” – Biddy Mason
This book is an incredible accomplishment for White and Atkins, which is evident 
in the pages that are thoughtfully filled with historical information, definitions and
timelines relevant to both Mason’s life and injustices throughout the United
States during her time. White also does an exemplary job of telling Mason’s story
through rich and sobering prose – and responsibly touches on themes of sexual
assault and violence against women. And Freeman's lush illustrations illuminate 
Biddy's warmth and bravery.
Biddy Mason Speaks Up is perfect for: 
The future activist
The future medical practitioner
The future philanthropist
The future historian

Learn More:
Arisa White
Laura Atkins
Laura Freeman
New York Times California Today Article
Where to Buy:
Heyday Books

3 thoughts on “Children’s Book Review: Biddy Mason Speaks Up

  1. Excellent review of a most interesting and relevant book. You might want to pair it with my NF middle-grade biography of Biddy Mason, WITH OPEN HANDS, with its foreword by her great-great-great-granddaughter Linda Spikes Cox Brown.


      1. Great. You might also enjoy reading my other NF biographies of such figures as Benjamin Banneker, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Marian Anderson, Matthew Henson. The books have won many awards, I’m happy to say. And I’m proud for what these great men and women did for America.


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