Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend – Perfect Picture Book

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend

Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, Authors

John Holyfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, September 2011,  Historical Fiction

Suitable for: Children 5-8 years

Themes:  Animals in history, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Opening/Synopsis: Alex sat on bench outside the store.  He wanted to go and play, but his mother had told him to wait for her.  There was nothing to do on the porch but watch an old mule eating in the garden across the street.  There was no breeze.  It was so still that Alex could hear the mule munching on a row of bright collard greens.  An old woman, Miz Pettaway, sat down on the bench next to Alex and chuckled, “Ol’ Belle?  She can have all the collards she wants.  She’s earned it.”  Alex learns from Miz Pettaway that Belle has played a very important role in the history of the civil rights movement.

This is a true story about an amazing mule, from a poor community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.  Few could afford a car, so the community of farmers depended on the mules to help them work the land.  In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Gee’s Bend and inspired the African-American community to register to vote.   Miz Pettaway, said “they felt strong after Dr. King spoke.”  So many of the local “Benders” traveled to Camden to vote that the sheriff shut down the ferry.  But, stubborn and determined,  the Benders  boarded wagons pulled by mules and defied the local authorities.   When Dr. King died, Gee’s Bend received a call asking if their mules would pull Dr. King’s coffin through the streets of Atlanta during the funeral.  Belle and another mule Ada, did the honors that day.  Alex sees the mule through new eyes — a hero.

Why I liked this Book:  I applaud the authors, Ramsey and Stroud, for their very fresh approach to telling the story of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.  Holyfield’s bold and colorful acrylic illustrations evoke the determination and the drama of that time in history.  The book is an intergenerational book and should be in every classroom for this year’s Martin Luther King celebrations.  It won a Parent’s Choice Award in 2011.  There is an author’s note at the end of the book about this true story of the mules who pulled the funeral wagon from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College in 1968.  Belle and Ada were an important part of history.  And Miz Pettaway did exist, a I found an interview with her.  She was among the famous Gee’s Bend quilters.  Links to resourcesEducation World and Teacher Vision.

For more books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

46 thoughts on “Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend – Perfect Picture Book

  1. Belle, the last mule sounds wonderful. Historic tales written for children are a great idea. And the illos are so bright, it looks great!


    • Catherine, I’m glad you enjoyed the selection. I love historical fiction for children told in a fun, yet very interesting way. This was a story I wasn’t familiar with, although I remember those mules. There is a page at the end with a photo.


  2. Thanks for this timely book review. I agree that it should be in every classroom at MLK day. I forwarded it to my sisters who have a special interest in MLK and the civil rights movement. As a family we were involved in the marches on Washington DC and our mother and older brother did much towards integration.

    This sounds like just the right perspective to get kids thinking along the lines of how important those times actually were.


    • Clar, you certainly grew up in a socially conscious family. I think it is great that you were involved in the marches in Washington as a child. Such an important time to be involved in history. I like this book, because it is a fresh approach on the civil rights movement for children.


  3. My eyes watered up while reading this to my husband. I woke up thinking about being a voice for the voiceless and then this – coupled with the fact that I’m probably a bit menopausal, just a bit too much for me not to get emotional. I’m definitely going to see if our school library has this book. If they don’t… well then I’ll just have to make a donation. I agree that this book is a great way for kids to become interested in history.


  4. This sounds like a wonderful book, Pat. I can’t wait to read it. I love the fresh perspective! Thanks so much for sharing! (And if you get a chance, coudl you tell me the themes since I haven’t read it so I can add it to the master list? Thanks!)


  5. I love an animal’s perspective or focus on significant events and know I would appreciate reading this story. Actually one could do a whole series of wonderful books on animals in history, now there’s an idea!


  6. What a great choice for MLK Day. I teared up just reading the synopsis and your review. Add an animal to an already poignant story and I have no doubt it’ll be a winner. Thank you for sharing this right now. I’m going to see if I can get it from the library to read to my kids next week.


    • Jen, I see it as an introductory book for kids about a serious topic — but what a fun way to learn about the civil rights movement and MLK it through an animal. The story was so compelling because everything about it was true. Gee’s Bend is a real place. The women are known for their quilting. And, MLK inspired them in a way that they responded. Just loved this book.


    • Stacy, are you familiar with Gee’s Bend, and the famous quilters? There is a photo at the back of the book of Belle and Ada pulling the coffin. And, a lot of historical info. I love historical fiction and an important part of history being seen through the eyes of a child or an animal. Makes history interesting for kids.


    • Glad you liked the book, Erik. I’m finding I really like some of the wonderful historical fiction books. I love seeing a fresh approach and seeing the story throught the eyes of a child or animal.


    • Oh my, thank you MiMi for stopping by my blog. Am glad you liked the selection — I love the history related at the end of the book. Congratulations on the release of “Adventures in Rainbow Valley. Such a great story about believing in your own potential. Plan to check out your book. Looks like you may have a series. Isn’t Erik great and professional.


  7. Pat, you know I love this book! I’ll be ordering this book for the library for sure. I love the new historical fiction pb books that have been coming out lately that highlight these special stories about people-or in this case an animal-who have made such great contributions in history. Fantastic choice!!


    • Kelly, thank you for yor positive comments. Thought you might like this one. I have recently discovered a wealth of historical fiction that I’ve just fallen in love with. Such a great way to teach kids.


  8. I love the opening lines and I love your review. I do a lot of first line/paragraph posts at Pen and Ink. (you’ll find links to most of them on a tab at the top of the page.)
    I am adding Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend to my tbr list. Thanks


  9. Being a Poetry Friday enthusiast, I am now learning that I am missing out on Perfect Picture Book Friday! I should also visit your posts since this is one book that I also have not heard of before and I am now excited to discover many thanks to your very thoughtful review, Patricia. 🙂 Many thanks again for sharing. I am enjoying going through your blogposts. 🙂


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  11. Hi Patricia thank you for writing this book. Your book is actually written about my family the Pettways from Gees Bend AL who were very influential in the civil rights movement and it was rumored that these two mules pulled the casket of MLK. I’m working on a film about this same subject and would love to speak with you further : )


    • Glenn, wish I could take credit. I just reviewed the book. The authors are Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud. You can find the author’s website on-line and get in touch with them. That’s fascinating that you are related to the Pettways. It was one of my favorite books. I did my own research and was stunned by the real story and the beautiful quilts that are made in Gees Bend. Wish you luck.


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