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Open the book on the Boston Book Festival

An illustration by E.B. Lewis from “Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis.”E.B. Lewis

Illustrated civil rights story

Georgia congressman John Lewis has been a civil-rights activist for more than 50 years. He was a Freedom Rider and in 1963 he became the youngest leader of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Two years later he stood on the front lines when police officers in Alabama attacked him and other unarmed demonstrators in Selma.

As a boy, Lewis dreamed of inspiring people with his words to take action. He practiced before the chickens on his family’s farm. That’s the genesis of a new picture book “Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis” (Penguin) written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. In addition to writing children’s books as well as adult nonfiction and novels, Asim is a writing professor at Emerson College and executive editor of The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine. At the Boston Book Festival on Saturday, he’ll do a reading from “Preacher” for 5- to 8-year-olds and moderate a panel on debut novels.

Open the book on Boston Book Fest

Speaking of the Boston Book Festival, it’s time to check out the dozens of sessions on the schedule and decide which ones to make a beeline for. Keynote speakers include Colson Whitehead (fiction), Jon Klassen (children’s books), Kami Garcia (young adult), James Gleick (nonfiction), Susan Faludi (memoir), and Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee (art history). In each case, the keynote author will be in conversation with a bookish counterpart such as Saeed Jones, a culture editor at BuzzFeed, or radio host Christopher Lydon.


As a light-hearted prelude to the festival, the Boston Literary District is hosting Lit Crawl Boston on Thursday at a handful of stops on Newbury Street. The line-up includes a Wheel of Austen literary improv game. Details at

Harvard professor honored

A “Saturday Night Live” sketch from 1980 called “In Search of the Negro Republican” placed a zoologist at a Manhattan cocktail party on a quest for the elusive creature. This piece of political satire still resonates, writes Leah Wright Rigueur in her book “The Loneliness of the Black Republican” (Princeton University). Rigueur’s book, which covers the period between the New Deal and the election of Ronald Reagan, will be honored by the New England Historical Association at its annual conference on Oct. 22. A professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Rigueur will receive the James P. Hanlan Book Award, which highlights the work of a historian living and/or working in New England.


Documenting historic tale

The story of the Americans who safeguarded the nation’s founding documents is the subject of Stephen Puleo’s new book “American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address” (St. Martin’s). As Hitler’s armies advanced across Europe in 1941, the three founding documents were taken far from Washington, D.C., for safekeeping.

Coming out

“A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment” by John Preston (Other)

“Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine)

Pick of the Week

Barbara Kelly of Kelly’s Books To Go in South Portland, Maine, recommends “The Kept Woman” by Karin Slaughter (Morrow): “This suspenseful tour de force features Georgia detective Will Trent in a compelling mystery involving a superstar sports figure, his wife, and a rape. The athlete had already been cleared of the rape allegations when a dead man is found in a building he is renovating into a high-end club. At the scene, blood is found that doesn’t match that of the dead man, indicating that there is a second victim — a woman — in dire trouble.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at