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The Delany Sisters Reach High (Children's Illustrated Book)  

"Delivers a striking history lesson." - Publisher's Weekly

Scroll down for Classroom Ideas

The Delany Sisters Reach High

A 2003 picture-book biography of the Delany Sisters for young children, with illustrations by Tim Ladwig. New edition published Dec. 1, 2023 by the University of North Carolina Press.

PAPERBACK ISBN: 978-1-4696-7969-3

The Delany Sisters Reach High focuses on the childhood of Sadie and Bessie Delany, who followed the advice of their father, a minister and vice-president of St. Augustine’s College, in striving to achieve their best. Bessie Delany became the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York State. Her older sister, Sadie, was the first black person to teach domestic science on the high school level in the New York City public schools. They both lived to be more than 100 years old and have become inspirations to all those who read their story in Having Our Say. With illustrations by Tim Ladwig, the sisters' happy childhood in the 1890s comes to life in The Delany Sisters Reach High. 

"With this book, Hearth has added a significant title to the spectrum of children's literature." - The Christian Science Monitor

[Tim Ladwig's illustrations are] "sunlit, golden, paradisiacal." - The Washington Post

"A window into life for African-American families in the early 20th century." - School Library Journal

"A wonderful biography (which) will delight readers with educational but fun information. (Reading it) can make you a better person." - The Dallas Morning News. (Reviewed by a fifth grade girl.)

"Hearth is an evocative writer with an appealing, direct style." - Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

"Inspiring reading for today's kids." - The Orange County (Calif.) Register.

Classroom Ideas for The Delany Sisters Reach High from Gerontologists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte & Wilmington


Created by Cynthia Hancock, Ph.D., Tina M. K. Newsham, Ph.D., & Sarah Tesar, M.S.(c)


Discuss with the class that centenarians are individuals who live for at least 100 years.  Can the class count to 100?  A century is also ten decades.  Can the class count by 10s to 100?  Bessie lived to 104.  Sadie lived to 109.  How many more years did Sadie live compared to Bessie?

Many things have changed from the Delany sisters' childhood to yours. For example, there were ten children in the Delany family, and all four girls slept in one room, while the six boys slept in another. Each had their own cot. Can you draw their bedroom and your bedroom? What are the biggest similarities? What are the biggest differences?

To do ahead:  Find diverse images of actual centenarians online ahead of the activity. 
The author's note tells us about the sisters' adult lives. Can you imagine what your life would be like if you live to be 100? Draw a picture of what you think you might look like at that age.

Once the pictures are complete, show the children pictures of actual people of different genders and races that are 100. Discuss the differences between the picture they drew and the portraits of centenarians. Ask the children why they drew themselves the way they did.


Sadie and Bessie lived in a community where they had many older adults in their lives, Uncle Jesse, Mr. Holloway, and Culot, for example. Each of those adults played an important role in the sisters' lives. Do you know any older adults? What role do they play in your life?

Can you think of some big historical events that occurred in the sisters' lives? What about historical events that both the sisters and your grandparents or great grandparents would have experienced?

Centenarians have full and rich life histories.  If you could meet Sadie or Bessie, what would you want to ask them?  Based on what you read in the book, what might have been some of Sadie and Bessie's favorite parts of growing up?  What challenges might they have faced?  What did Sadie and Bessie grow up to be?  What would you like to be when you grow up?

The Delany sisters didn't have a lot of things, but they were happy.  What do you think made them happy?

Do you know anyone who has lived to 100?  If so, who?   Here are some questions that you might ask someone, like a centenarian, who has an interesting story to tell.
o   Tell me about where you grew up.

o   Tell me about any pets you've had in your life.

o   What are your favorite hobbies?

o   What career(s) did/do you have?

o   What historical events made an impact on your life and how so?

o   What brings you joy/happiness?

o   What are your favorite foods?

o   Who is your favorite person to spend time with?  What do you like to do with that person?

o   What was your most and least favorite subject in school?

o   What is your favorite place to take a vacation?

o   What do you look forward to tomorrow?

o   What is your favorite holiday?  Why?

o   What is the best advice you can give to me?

o   What is your favorite movie?  TV show?  Book?

o   Did you ever think you'd live to be 100?

o   What is the greatest thing about being your age?

o   Have others in your family lived to be 100?

o   Is there something you'd like to share with me that I haven't asked about?