What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

Barbara Jordan always impressed me as a phenomenal woman. She inspired reverence and awe and spoke to something deep inside. Such dignity and resolution. There are hardly words for her. But Chris Barton found the words, and Ekua Holmes has created such magnificent and complex illustrations. This is a picture book is big and bold and beautiful. Happy Perfect Picture Book Friday!

what-do-you-do-with-a-voice-like-that-9781481465618_lgTitle: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Written by: Chris Barton
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

Beach Lane Books/S&S 2018

Suitable for ages: publisher states 4-8, I say 6-12 due to vocabulary, word count, subject matter

Themes/topics: justice, social change, African American women

Growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, TX, Barbara Jordan stood out.
She may have looked like other kids.
She may have acted like other kids.
But she sure didn’t sound like other kids. Not with that voice of hers.

Brief synopsis
Congresswoman Barbara Jordan had a big, bold, confident voice—and she knew how to use it! Learn all about her amazing career in this illuminating and inspiring picture book biography of the lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights leader.

Even as a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan stood out for her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It was a voice that made people sit up, stand up, and take notice.

So what do you do with a voice like that?

Barbara took her voice to places few African American women had been in the 1960s: first law school, then the Texas state senate, then up to the United States congress. Throughout her career, she persevered through adversity to give voice to the voiceless and to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice.

Activities and Resources:
What can you do with your voice? Generate a class list of ways we can use our voices. Choose one way you’d like to use your voice to make the world a better place. Put your voice on paper and write about it.

Words: Pick out all the words in the book about speaking, about listening, and about both. Would you rather speak to an audience or listen to a speaker? Why? Discuss this with a partner. Practice listening and responding.


Why I like this book:

I was blown away by Barbara Jordan’s eloquence, confidence, and integrity from the moment I first heard her voice. Yes! Her voice was so distinctive. She exuded something that we all long for. How perfect that Barton has used that voice to be the connecting thread of her life and works. Ekua Holmes is on my list of favorite illustrators, and her art is bold and colorful, full of texture and interest. Even the paper and size of this book are special and make you sit up straight and take notice.

For writers, this book is an excellent mentor text. When I tackle a story that covers a long period of time or contains several separate events, I often struggle with the transitions and making it all flow smoothly, carrying the emotional thread through the story. Barton has achieved this masterfully by using Jordan’s voice. Examining his text is a lesson in transitioning and connecting.


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

Visit the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on Kid Lit Frenzy for more great nonfiction books for kids! 

4 thoughts on “What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

  1. This sounds like the perfect book for a girl who wants to make a difference and learn to use her own voice. You can’t go wrong with Barbara as a role model – or a mentor text. Thanks for sharing your perspective.


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