Unabridged: a Charlesbridge Children's Book Blog


Follow Chester! Read the Author's Note 0

The year is 1947. Jackie Robinson signs a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. President Truman signs an Act of Congress, beginning the Cold War. India and Pakistan gain independence from the British Empire. The world is changing. 

But some parts of the world are slower to change than others. Jim Crow laws in the American South require black people to use different facilities from white people, from schools and restaurants right on down to drinking fountains. They certainly don't allow black athletes to play against white athletes. Not until Harvard's football team challenges UVA's racist policies by bringing Chester Pierce to the field. 

Take a sneak peek at author Gloria Respress-Churchwell's author's note to learn more: 

After talking with Dr. Chester Pierce and discussing his life with him, I wrote this story. The details about Chester’s childhood, college years, how collegiate football worked, the restaurant scene, and Chester’s response to the black fans are based on actual events. I changed some details and invented the dialogue, bathroom scene, and the play called “Follow Chester” to create a sense of what it might have been like for him to travel to and play in the South while Jim Crow laws were in place.

Charles Follis, known as “The Black Cyclone,” was the first black professional football player  (with the Shelby Blues from 1902 to 1906). Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first black players in what is now the National Football League (NFL); they played in 1920. In 1933 NFL owners decided that there would be no more African American players. This lockout is attributed to George Preston Marshall, who became owner of the Boston Braves (later the Washington Redskins) in 1932. Marshall refused African American players, and he pressured the league to maintain the same policy.

A breakthrough occurred in 1946, when Cleveland’s NFL team, the Rams, moved to Los Angeles and wanted to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The LA Dons, from the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), also applied. The Coliseum Commission and black sportswriters (Los Angeles Tribune sports editor Halley Harding in particular) pushed the NFL to integrate as a condition of the lease. Both the Rams and the Dons announced they would. Kenny Washington and Woody Strode signed with the Rams. In the same year, Bill Willis and Marion Motley signed and played for the Cleveland Browns.

Even though professional football was integrated, colleges in the South didn’t allow black players until the 1960s. Black students who wanted to play football usually went to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Grambling State and Jackson State.

Chester Pierce made history in 1947. UVA thought Harvard would sit Chester out and expected they wouldn’t bring him at all. There was an unwritten college-football agreement that said when integrated college football teams played schools in the South, they wouldn’t play their black players. The all-white Southern team chose a player of equal talent to sit out the game.

When Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier in 1947, Harvard knew history was on their side.

An article in the Harvard Crimson said, “Virginia officials scheduled the game hoping Harvard would voluntarily exclude Pierce. But Crimson Athletic Director Bill Bingham insisted on Pierce’s participation, and Virginia relented.”

Many newspapers and magazines covered the game. Boston Globe journalist Jeremiah Murphy (who was a UVA student at the time) described a significant moment: “Chet Pierce turned and faced the segregated black crowd behind the end zone. He was about 6-feet-3 and 235 pounds. He stood there for a second and then held up his right hand and saluted the black crowd. They stood up and applauded.”

Dr. Chester Pierce always said he didn’t do anything special. I have never spoken with a humbler man, especially given all his vast accomplishments. Although Dr. Pierce passed away in September 2016, his family and I talked, and they are pleased about this book.

Dr. Pierce’s courageous story can speak to all of us: Adversity develops courage! Confidence lives in each of us! My hope is that Follow Chester! will inspire young readers to seek out additional information about Dr. Pierce and other such heroes.

Follow Chester: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History

  • Colette Parry

Afterword from an Astronaut! 0

Did you know that astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, wrote an afterword for Suzanne Slade's Daring Dozen? Slade interviewed Bean for her picture book exploring the unsung Apollo missions; in this afterword, Bean reveals what it was really like to do the moonwalk. 

I’m often asked, “When you first stepped on the moon, what were your thoughts?” Although that moment was the culmination of many dreams and fears, successes and failures—none of that was on my mind. Instead, I was thinking I had to learn how to move in one-sixth gravity as fast as I could. Only then would I be able to do the tasks on the checklist strapped to my wrist, such as gather rocks and set up experiments.

It didn’t take long to learn how to run in a space suit. The knee and hip joints were stiff, but the ankle joints moved easily. So I kept my legs relatively stiff and mostly used ankle motions. It felt and looked as if I were dancing on tiptoe. On Earth I weighed about three hundred pounds with my suit and backpack. On the moon my equipment and I weighed only fifty pounds. This light weight made me feel super-strong, as if I could run forever. 

“This is the moon,” I said in disbelief to my crewmate Pete Conrad while looking down at the dusty gray surface. Then I squinted and stared up at that beautiful crescent Earth and said, “That is the Earth!” It was hard to believe we were standing on our only moon.

  • Colette Parry

Will's Words: The ForeWORD 0

How can we speak of the Bard without using his household words? Shakespeare coined hundreds of words and phrases which are still used to this day; without him, English would be a sorry sight. Jane Sutcliffe's foreword to Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk gives us the long and short of it

Dear Reader: 

We have to talk. I have failed you. I set out to write a book about the Globe Theatre and its great storyteller, William Shakespeare. About how the man was an absolute genius with words and wove those words into the most brilliant and moving plays ever written.

But that's just the trouble. You see, I wanted to tell you the story in my own words. But Will Shakespeare's words are there, too, popping up all over the place. 

It's not my fault. Really. Will's words are everywhere. They're bumping into our words all the time, and we don't even know it. So how could I help it, for goodness' sake?

There, you see what I mean? Those are Will's words, all mixed in with mine. People just love his plays, and they've kept on loving them for hundreds of years–hundreds!

And the more they love his plays, the more they use his words. Now his words and sayings are everywhere, ending up in the stuff we say and write every day. I couldn't avoid them if I tried–and I did try. 

Well, I suppose what's done is done.

Oh. Right. 

Maybe I'll just stop now and let you read the book. 

Yours truly, 

The Author.

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

  • Colette Parry

E-I-E-I-O! Illustrating Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo?! 6

Iza Trapani stops by to chat about her process for illustrating her new book Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo?


The illustration process for all my books starts the minute I begin a story. My head fills with images, and I start doodling and storyboarding as I work on the manuscript. I find it really helpful to figure out the pagination, to know what text will go on each page. That way I can pace the story, see where I can cut words, change things around, and make sure to move the story forward from page to page. I sketch the storyboard on an 18” x 24” sheet of paper and layout all thirty-two pages of the book on it. Here is the entire storyboard:

And here is a close up:

As you can see, these are very rough sketches. I redo them as needed and glue on revised sketches. That’s why it’s all such a sloppy mess! Then I doodle some larger sketches, like this one:

Then I sketch and re-sketch.  I use a tracing/sketching paper to draw on. This allows me to trace over other images, and if I flip the paper over it’s easy to see irregularities or errors (like one eye lower than another…). Here is the final approved dummy sketch for the above page:

Here it is painted in watercolor and acryla gouache:

Early on, I do character studies in different poses:

My husband is a convenient model and has posed for this and previous books.

And in case you are wondering what’s in the next scene…


The chickens, rooster, horse and dog in this book are friends’ pets. The cat is ours. I also browse endless Google images and books for the animals, scenery, architecture, and whatever I will need to draw. And I drive around and take many of my own photos. So much work goes into the illustrations: sketching, re-sketching, researching, checking for consistencies (in characters, setting, colors), painting, repainting…

The cover is especially important. Contrary to the old adage, we DO judge a book by its cover. It needs to hint at what the book is about and also be appealing. Here are some cover sketches/designs I had done:


And some color studies:

Here’s the final sketch and cover as approved by Charlesbridge:

Poor Old MacDonald…He just wanted to milk his cow and have a normal day on the farm.

Not so…

 But all is well in the end.

Well, almost…


Purchase Old MacDonald Had a...Zoo? for your readers today!

  • Mel Schuit