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Judson Press children's series combines life
lessons, Scripture, African-American history

Joe Joe Books

Written by Jean Alicia Elster and published by Judson Press—a ministry of American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the “Joe Joe in the City” children’s picture book series is unique in that it combines several uplifting features: guidance for children who face today’s challenges, a corresponding Scripture verse and African-American history. In fact, a teacher in a Detroit suburb was so impressed by the series that she purchased it for her 9-year-old son’s personal collection and asked the author to autograph all four books.

Mahrini Woods, a fourth-grade teacher at Eastover Elementary, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., perused the series in the school’s library, where it was on display in preparation for an author visit by Elster. Woods says she fell in love with the books and purchased them online for her son, Isaiah Woods, a third-grader at the school.

“The way Ms. Elster ties in struggles, events and people in history with modern-day problems is a wonderful way for the children to learn about important people in the past and apply what they’ve learned to their own lives,” says Mahrini Woods, an educator for 17 years. “I’m not sure that I’ve seen many books that have done that for children—particularly for African-American children.” 

Ideal for ages 6-10, the Joe Joe books include historical black-and-white photographs as well as endearing full-color illustrations by Nicole Tadgell. In recognition of the series, ArtServe Michigan awarded Elster the Governors’ Emerging Artist Award in 2002.

In “Just Call Me Joe Joe” (2001)—featuring information about and photographs of the Negro baseball leagues and such players as James “Cool Papa” Bell—10-year-old Joe Joe is mistaken for a troublemaker. In “I have a Dream, Too!” (May 2002), Joe Joe learns about Mary McLeod Bethune, who started what became Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona Beach, Fla. “I’ll Fly My Own Plane” (September 2002) includes facts about African-American aviation pioneers, such as Bessie Coleman. While learning about Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ralph Bunche, Joe Joe resists a street gang in “I’ll Do the Right Thing” (2003), which earned the 2004 Atlanta Daily World’s Atlanta Choice Award in the “Children’s Books” category.

“One thing I like about the books is that the character Joe Joe loves to read! In each story, he goes to the public library and gets a book from the ever-so-caring and helpful librarian,” says Mahrini Woods. “I also like the way the author embeds history in the stories and connects it to everyday life. If we teach our children to learn from significant people in our past, maybe they can avoid some mistakes in the future. I love the Scripture references at the beginning of each book, which go along with the story.” 

A speaker at schools, libraries and conferences throughout the United States, Elster read “Just Call Me Joe Joe” to kindergarten through third-grade students at Eastover Elementary.

Says Isaiah Woods: “It’s important for kids to read the Joe Joe series because it teaches lifelong lessons that everybody needs to learn—perseverance, like in the story “I Have a Dream, Too!”, and standing up for yourself, like in “Just Call Me Joe Joe.”

For more information about the series and other Judson Press books, visit www.judsonpress.com.

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