The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Other authorsOge Mora (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2020





Schwartz & Wade (2020), 40 pages

Library's review

"Mary Walker, who learned to read at the age of 116, is introduced to young readers in this lovingly illustrated picture book.

Born into slavery in Alabama, Mary Walker was not allowed to learn to read. When the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery, she was 15. She was later gifted a Bible, which she couldn’t read, but she kept it and made marks in it when her children were born. She worked hard and took care of her family and kept postponing her goal of learning to read. But she outlived her family, including a son who died at the age of 94. In 1963, she enrolled in a literacy program. “Could someone her age learn to read? She didn’t know, but by God, she was going to try.” By 1969 she had learned to read, been certified the nation’s oldest student (twice), received the key to the city of Chattanooga, and had her birthday celebrated by the city to recognize her achievement. While the author’s note mentions that some of the details that round out the text are invented, the most amazing facts of this story are the ones that are documented. Mary Walker was a living connection to a history people wanted to forget, and her indomitable spirit comes across beautifully in this book. Caldecott honoree Mora’s (Thank You, Omu!, 2018) collages endear Walker to readers, each spread creating an intriguing scene of textures and layers.

Enjoy this book with every child you know; let Mary Walker become a household name. (selected bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)" A Kirkus Starred Review (
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"A picture book biography sharing the inspiring and incredible true story of the nation's oldest student, Mary Walker, who learned to read at the age of 116"--


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Physical description

11.38 inches


1524768286 / 9781524768287


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