Alec's Primer


Alec's Primer

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Hardcover :: Retold by Mildred Pitts Walter, paintings by Larry Johnson

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About this Story

As a young boy born into slavery in Virginia, Alec Turner was forbidden to learn to read. Naturally he was frightened when Zephie, his owner’s granddaughter, first offered to teach him, but she told him that if he learned to read, he could become a free man. Mastering the alphabet from a small primer marked the first steps that would eventually lead Alec to freedom on a Vermont farm.


About the Storytellers

Alec Turner in 1869

Alec Turner in 1869

Alec Turner (1845-1923), born a slave, ran away from his plantation during the Civil War and joined the First New Jersey Cavalry in April of 1862.

In the years after the Civil War Alec married Sally Early and eventually settled in Grafton, Vermont. After several years working in the lumber industry, Alec bought about 100 acres for a farm called “Journey’s End.”

Daisy Turner, Alec’s daughter, recounted the story of Alec and his primer for Vermont Folklife Center folklorist Jane Beck in 1983.

Born on June 21, 1883, Daisy Turner lived most of her 104 years in the area around Grafton. Late in life, Daisy became her family’s historian, relating tales of her grandfather’s journey from Africa into slavery in Virginia, and her father’s eventual escape to freedom and life on a Vermont hill farm.

About the Author

Throughout her long writing career, Mildred Pitts Walter has been an advocate for justice, freedom, and peace. She won the Coretta Scott King Award forJustin and the Best Biscuits in the World, and her Mississippi Challenge received a King Honor Book Award and the Christopher Award. A member of Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, Mildred Pitts Walter lives in Denver.

About the Illustrator

Larry Johnson has illustrated over twenty books for children, including Knoxville, Tennessee by Nikki Giovanni, The Wilma Rudolph Story, and Daisy and the Doll by Michael and Angela Shelf Medearis, a story about Alec Turner’s daughter Daisy. A man of many interests who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, Larry co-hosts a radio talk show and serves as a youth minister.

Critical Acclaim for Alec's Primer

Alec’s Primer is a wonderful book that will give children everywhere a more personal perspective on this small piece of Black history.“

 Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund

“The power of this escape story, which is based on true events, is in the realistic detail about a child under slavery and in the storytelling that passes on the history. . . . Walter’s spare, dramatic words and Johnson’s stirring double-page paintings present a glimpse of the history in a brutal world – the child’s intense fear, his bond with his mother and with his blonde friend, and finally, his triumph.“

 Hazel Rochman, starred review, Booklist

“The power of words and empathy is . . . the message in Alec’s Primer . . . . this volume offers children both insight and inspiration.“

 ForeWord Magazine

Critical Acclaim for the Vermont Folklife Center Children’s Book Series

“The series, a model for building a national culture from stories rather than bricks, offers something for everyone.”

– Daria Donnelley, Commonweal

“The series proudly promotes the richly diverse heritage that makes our country unique and strong. Americans of all ages will enjoy these keenly insightful and beautifully illustrated treasures.”

– Laura Bush, First Lady of the United States

“The series as a whole preserves the memories of a bygone way of life.”

– Publishers Weekly