No Crystal Stair

A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

  • Interest Level: Grade 7 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 7

“You can’t walk straight on a crooked line. You do you’ll break your leg. How can you walk straight in a crooked system?”

Lewis Michaux was born to do things his own way. When a white banker told him to sell fried chicken, not books, because “Negroes don’t read,” Lewis took five books and one hundred dollars and built a bookstore. It soon became the intellectual center of Harlem, a refuge for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Malcolm X.

In No Crystal Stair, Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines meticulous research with a storyteller’s flair to document the life and times of her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, an extraordinary literacy pioneer of the Civil Rights era.

“My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I’m taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could never sell books to black people are eating crow. I’d say my seeds grew pretty damn well. And not just the book business. It’s the more important business of moving our people forward that has real meaning.”

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Interest Level Grade 7 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Young Adult
Category Diverse Books: #OwnVoices, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diverse Books: Social Justice, Diversity
Copyright 2012
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Lab ®
Language English
Number of Pages 192
Publication Date 2014-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 5.5
Text Type Fiction—Historical
BISACS YAF005000, YAF046120, YAF016000
Dewey 381'.45002097471
Graphics 1-color illustrations
Dimensions 7 x 10
Lexile 850
ATOS Reading Level 5.5
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 149852
Accelerated Reader® Points 5.0
Features Afterword, Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Index, Primary source quotations/images, Reviewed, Starred Reviews, and eSource

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online at

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie's illustrations have earned him many awards, including a Caldecott Honor, many Coretta Scott King Honors, and multiple spots on the New York Times' annual Best Illustrated Children's Books lists. He has been a guest speaker at conferences and libraries and teaches after school art programs all over the world. He lives in Georgia.

Lerner eSource™ offers free digital teaching and learning resources, including Common Core State Standards (CCSS) teaching guides. These guides, created by classroom teachers, offer short lessons and writing exercises that give students specific instruction and practice using Common Core skills and strategies. Lerner eSource also provides additional resources including online activities, downloadable/printable graphic organizers, and additional educational materials that would also support Common Core instruction. Download, share, pin, print, and save as many of these free resources as you like!

No Crystal Stair

“You can’t walk straight on a crooked line. You do you’ll break your leg. How can you walk straight in a crooked system?” Lewis Michaux was born to do things his own way. When a white banker told him to sell fried chicken, not books, because… View available downloads →


  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, Winner, 2013
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2013
  • YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, Winner, 2013
  • NCTE Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts, Winner, 2013
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Notable Book, Winner, 2013
  • Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children, Winner, 2012
  • School Library Journal Best Book, Winner, 2012
  • Coretta Scott King Author Award, Commended, 2012
  • Cream of the Crop for Children's and Young Adult Literature, Winner, 2012
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Winner, 2012
  • Tayshas Reading List, Winner, 2012
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Winner, 2012
  • Horn Book Best Books of the Year, Winner, 2012
  • New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Winner, 2012
  • ABC Best Books for Children Catalog List, Winner, 2012
  • Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year, Winner, 2012
  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books, Winner, 2012


The Horn Book Guide

“Opened at the end of the Great Depression, Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore became a central gathering place for African American writers, artists, intellectuals, and political figures. In this extraordinary, inspiring book, short chapters are written in thirty-six different voices—mostly of Michaux himself and other historical people.” —The Horn Book Guide


“Eye-opening….This book will capture readers’ interest from the first pages and they will find themselves still thinking about it weeks later.” —VOYA

Library Media Connection

“A storytelling quality, as well as short pieces of history on each page, will make this appealing to anyone looking to know more about the Civil Rights era.” —Library Media Connection

The Horn Book Magazine

“An extraordinary, inspiring book to put into the hands of scholars and skeptics alike.”—starred, The Horn Book Magazine

Publishers Weekly

“Nelson and Christie deliver an engrossing blend of history, art, and storytelling in this deeply moving tribute to a singular individual.”—starred, Publishers Weekly


“Not only a compelling biography but also a useful addition to the literature of black history and culture.” —Booklist

School Library Journal

“The storytelling format, candid perspectives, supplemental images, and historic connections bring to life an unheralded individualist whose story will engage readers.”&mdashstarred, School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“A stirring and thought-provoking account of an unsung figure in 20th-century American history.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews