Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man Book Poster Image
Compelling, fact-filled bio of the abolitionist icon.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Tons of names, dates, and images from Frederick Douglass' long life introduce readers to many of the most important people and events of the 19th century in the United States.

Positive Messages

In Frederick's words, "if there is no struggle, there is no progress. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Frederick Douglass was a champion of social justice, a political reformer, a civil servant, and a dedicated crusader for human rights. 

Violence

A few brief descriptions of racially motivated violence experienced by Frederick and others, as well as references to race riots, Ku Klux Klan terrorism, and the infamous "caning of Charles Sumner" on the floor of the United States Senate.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man, by Tonya Bolden (Crossing Ebenezer Creek), is a fact-filled overview of one of the towering figures of United States history and the most celebrated champion of the abolition of slavery. After escaping slavery himself in 1838, Douglass settles with his wife in Massachusetts and later New York. He comes into contact with many of the most important movers and shakers in American life, making Facing Frederick an excellent introduction to the major social justice movements of the 19th century.

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What's the story?

FACING FREDERICK: THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, A MONUMENTAL AMERICAN MAN is a sweeping biography of one of the most dynamic and influential civil rights champions of the 19th century. Award-winning children's author Tonya Bolden, whose many books have often focused on people and events central to understanding African American history, provides an informative introduction to a man whose life and publishing career (he started the abolitionist newspaper the North Star) brought him in touch with many of the leading figures fighting for reform and social justice in the United States and Britain. The book uses lots of quotes from primary sources to bring readers in touch with the debates being had during the lead-up to and aftermath of the Civil War, revealing the complicated and highly contested politics of the period. Less focused on the biographical details of Douglass' fascinating life, Bolden's biography instead highlights the connections between abolitionists like Douglass and other reformers and activists. By the end, readers will have come into contact with many of the major moments and movements of the century, as seen through the eyes of one remarkable man.

Is it any good?

Well-researched and well-written, this biography is a perfect overview for young students of American history. Bolden throws in so many names, dates, and quotes that some middle schoolers may get a little bit lost, but as a starting point for learning about abolitionism, the book excels. The striking portraits throughout the work help bring the story to life, as do the images of documents from the archives.

Some may find Bolden's writing style a little too informal or stylized, but her storytelling is engaging and compelling throughout. Facing Frederick is an excellent tool for introducing and understanding the long and difficult fight for liberation and social justice during an incredibly violent and volatile chapter in the history of the United States.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fight to abolish slavery detailed in Facing Frederick. How did that effort connect to other social justice issues of the day? How did abolitionism lead to the beginnings of black liberation movements?

  • Why does Frederick initially argue against pushing to give women the right to vote? Why does he consider the right to vote so important for African Americans following the Civil War?

  • What can the words and wisdom of Frederick Douglass teach us about injustice and oppression in our time? Does his message still ring true?

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