By Maya Payne Smart
Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston is a lovely picture book biography of a singular literary talent. Author Alicia D. Williams masterfully weaves threads of Hurston’s complicated life story into a tale simple and propulsive enough to maintain the attention of young children, yet complete and nuanced enough to satisfy Hurston’s grownup fans.
The book traces the jagged rise of the iconic writer, from a spunky young girl soaking up the front-porch tales of her neighbors in Eatonville, Florida, to a brilliant storyteller and conservator of black culture, language, and experience in her own right as an adult.
Make reading aloud more rewarding for the whole family.
Williams nods to the landscapes, people, and circumstances along the author’s uphill journey, but Hurston seems to provide her own momentum, leaping toward new places, experiences, and dreams without undue concern that she could fall to the ground. Rather, the book recounts how she took her mother’s encouragement to “jump at the sun” to heart—to Howard University to Harlem to Haiti and beyond, with little more than gumption to sustain her.
My husband and I named our daughter, Zora, after the pioneering writer, so I was thrilled to discover a book that could extend her knowledge of her namesake’s life and legacy.
Now nine years old, our Zora was enamored with the book from its opening pages. Beyond the obvious enjoyment she took in seeing her name repeated so many times in print, our Zora said she was inspired by Hurston’s ability to overcome obstacle after obstacle in the pursuit of her dreams. It’s true that the brilliant writer kept “jumping” in circumstances that would have narrowed most folks’ vision to just clawing out an existence on the ground.
Hurston’s legacy as a literary powerhouse blazes on with this biography for young readers. Fans of all ages can return to the book again and again to contemplate the questions it raises about familial obligation, the high cost of education, independence and patronage in the arts, the preservation of cultural heritage, and more. And parents in particular will love its poignant depiction of how a mother’s encouragement can provide lifelong inspiration.
Why do you think a Hurston biography is fitting for young audiences? Do you have a favorite biography that you read as a child or to a child?