How Isaac Murphy Became One of the World's Greatest Jockeys
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Benjamin Press, 2011 (paperback)
Viking Press, 2006 (hardcover)
Picture book biography, Grades 2-6
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Junior Library Guild Selection
Featured book in "What If Everybody Reads" Project
Children's Cooperative Book Center "Best of the Year" Choice
From the author:
I first learned about Isaac Murphy by reading a very small newspaper article in the Lexington Herald-Leader way back in 1995. The article mentioned that, even though Isaac had been the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbies, many modern people had never heard of him. That bothered me so much that I decided to do a little research. I soon discovered that the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Keeneland library had files filled with photos and news stories from the late 1800s. The photos of Isaac fascinated me. For someone who had spent part of his childhood as a slave, he looked confident as a grown man. I wanted to understand his life story and set out to find for more information. Eleven years later, I published Perfect Timing!
Black History Month
The story of Isaac Murphy - who experienced slavery as a child and freedom, fame, and wealth as an adult - is exciting at any time of year but can be especially useful during Black History Month. Through his life, students have a window to the African-American experience from 1860-1900.
Common Core State Standards
While Perfect Timing was conceived to be an action-packed and inspiring story, it also is an ideal text for use in guided discussions with students. My Teacher's Guide offers ideas for classroom use. During school visits, I extend that discussion by bringing copies of old photos and newspapers that served as source material. Students dive into a lively discussion about the challenge of interpreting such materials and shaping a story. Information about Common Core connections is provided on the Perfect Timing activities page and my School Visits page.
Isaac Murphy was one of the greatest jockeys in the history of horseracing. But if it hadn't been for one lucky day in 1873, he might never have ridden at all. On that day, Isaac was offered the chance to ride a horse. He took the opportunity, and from the moment he sat in the saddle, his life changed forever.
Isaac—the grandson of slaves—became a jockey, which allowed him to escape a future of labor and poverty. But Isaac wasn't just a jockey. He was one of the best. He won more races and set more records than almost anyone. Ever. Many of his records still stand today.
"The exciting depiction of a match race in 1890, an event for just two horses and riders, concisely captures the action and drama of the sport. Trollinger's prose style is clear but not oversimplified...This interesting biography is unique in its historical perspective on race relations and sports."—School Library Journal
"Using the jockey's "perfect timing" as a framework, Trollinger begins with a serendipitous moment, when Murphy was 12...Trollinger focuses on Murphy's rigorous training and the thrilling races, described in moment-by-moment detail. The straightforward text will read aloud well, and the subject will interest boys and girls alike."—Booklist
"Readers will love the atmospherics of flying dirt and surging horses."—Chicago Tribune
"With stunningly vibrant illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award-winner
Jerome Lagarrigue, Perfect Timing tells the story of Isaac
Murphy, the grandson of slaves who escaped a life of labor and
poverty by turning a chance offer to ride a horse into one of
the most successful jockey careers in the history of racing."—Amazon.com