Tag Archive: civil rights


brown girl dreaming

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Told in verse, this is Woodson’s memoir of her childhood.  Woodson shows the different influences in her life, from both South Carolina and New York City.  There is the richness of southern life, from the heat to the food to the family.  But it is not all sweetness as Woodson shows her family fracturing as she is raised by her grandparents for some of her childhood.  She also shows the racism and discrimination clearly on the page, never flinching in her powerful verse.  When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live once again with their mother, the dynamic changes and the flavor is urban as the Civil Rights Movement becomes a focus in her life.  Taking place in the 1960s and 1970s, this book captures a time of change in the United States and is also a compelling look at what forces build a writer.

Woodson’s poetry is a gorgeous and lush mix of powerful voice and strong memory.  Her writing is readable and understandable even by young audiences, but it also has depth.  There are larger issues being spoken about as Woodson tells about her own childhood and family.  There are universal truths being explored, as this book is as honest as can be, often raw and unhealed too.  It is a book that begs to be read, shared and then reread.

One of the things I always look for in a novel in verse is whether the poems stand on their own as well as how they combine into a full novel.  Woodson manages to create poems that are lyrical and lovely, that stand strongly about a subject and could be read alone.  As a collection, the poems are even stronger, carrying the story of family and iron strength even more powerfully.

Rich, moving and powerful, this is one of the best novels in verse available for children.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin.

separate is never equal

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Explore an early battle for desegregation of the California public schools in this picture book.  In a court battle that took place seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her family fought the system.  Having been placed in a Mexican school rather than a “whites only” one due to her Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, Sylvia and her family realized that she was being given a second-class education because the facilities and teachers were much better in the white school.  After appealing the school placement, the full extent of the racism of the system was revealed as the school proceeded to inform Sylvia who spoke perfect English that the other school would help her learn English better.  Sylvia’s parents took the battle to court and also organized the Hispanic community to find other students who were being clearly discriminated against.  This is a book where people took on a fight for what was right and managed to get things changed. 

Tonatiuh emphasizes the small and poor vs. large government and wealth throughout this book.  He makes sure that young readers understand the extent of the racism against Hispanics and the reality of the policies that they were living under.  The issue is complex, but he keeps it clear and concise, offering a solid view of the courage that it took for the Mendez family to fight the system and also making it clear why they were able to fight back when others could not.

Tonatiuh’s stylized illustrations pay homage as always to folk art.  His characters have glossy hair in different colors that are cut-outs of photographs.  The same is true of the fabric of clothes and other objects.  This is paired with a flat paint and clear black outlines making a combination that is modern and ageless. 

An important addition to the civil rights history of the United States, this nonfiction picture book tells a story of courage and determination.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

how i discovered poetry

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

A celebrated poet and author of books for children and teens, Nelson tells the story of growing up in the Civil Rights era and her connection to poetry.  In fifty poems, several of which have been previously published, Nelson reveals her growing up from age 4 through 14 during the 1950s and 1960s.  The poems show her progression from child to a self-aware teen who is directly impacted by the changes in civil rights.  Nelson also touches on the Cold War and feminism along with race in these poems.  Each poem here is a gem, carefully crafted and firmly placed in its setting in the book.  Beautiful.

In her author’s note, Nelson mentions that she prefers not to see the character in the book as herself but rather as “The Speaker.”  The first person perspective though will leave readers assuming that this is Nelson’s personal story and journey and it’s difficult to change that perception after reading the entire book.  Perhaps even more than the historical period it is The Speaker’s love of poetry and writing that makes the connection to Nelson as that person ring so true.  It is that love of poetry and words that makes each poem so beautiful, but also makes the narrator come alive.

Beautiful and worth rereading and revisiting, this collection of poems that forms a story is deep and worth submerging yourself in.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

march

March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell

This is the first book in a planned series of graphic novels that follow the life of Congressman John Lewis and his work in the civil rights struggle.  This first book opens with President Obama’s inauguration day and then flashes back to critical points throughout Lewis’ life.  It tells the story of his connection to animals on the farm, particularly chickens.  It also shows him as a young minister and his determination to stay in school and then to attend college.  Readers get to witness the violence of the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement including many pivotal moments in history like the sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters. 

This is one powerful graphic novel.  The writing is sterling and strong.  It shines with an honest portrayal of historical events from someone who did not just witness them, but fought the battles personally.  The book clearly explains the world of the 1950s and 1960s, making sure that modern readers understand the dangers of the times and the differences.  It is both a historical book but also one that is important for modern teens to understand how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Powell’s art is stellar.  It is stirring art that evokes history with a fresh eye.  He creatively uses light and dark, playing with words across it at times, other times allowing the darkness to take control.  There is a sense of witnessing history throughout the book in both the words and the art. 

An impressive graphic novel for teens, this book shines light on the Civil Rights Movement.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

when thunder comes

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

These poems celebrate heroes who have fought for civil rights.  Each poem focuses on one person, tells their story in imagery and strength.  Seventeen men and women are on the pages here, people from around the world and from the American Civil Rights Movement.  These are heroes who fought for justice and for equality.  Their stories and these poems are filled with courage, vision and a sense of doing what is right.  They will serve as inspiration for future generations who will have their own civil rights struggles to face.

Lewis has created poems that are both art but also informational.  He offers critical details in understanding what these heroes have been through and what they have accomplished.  At the same time, he reaches the heart of the person through his poetry too, showing the humanity about them as well.

The art in this book of poems was done by five illustrators.  The images range from the bright colors of Chinatown to the darkness of murder in Mississippi.  In every image though, readers see a leader who radiates courage.  The different art styles come together to form a tapestry of that courage.

Strong and powerful, this book of poetry deserves to be shared widely and these names known and understood.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

glory be

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

In Hanging Moss, Mississippi, summer is filled with swimming at the pool, visits to the library, and just trying to stay cool.  But for Glory, the summer of 1964 when she turned 12, was a very different summer.  Now her older sister Jesslyn, doesn’t want anything to do with her.  She is interested in boys more than in playing games with Glory.  Her best friend Frankie has always been easy to get along with, but now things are strained.  Glory does have a new friend, a girl from the north whose mother is helping set up a clinic where everyone is welcome.  Desegregation has come to Hanging Moss, and the pool is closed rather than stop being segregated, tempers are high, and neighbors and families are torn.  In this setting, it is Glory who shines, growing into a young woman with passion and a voice to match.

Scattergood’s debut novel is a gem of a novel.  She manages to write with a distinct point out view without negating the fears of the time but still firmly standing against any racism.  It’s a difficult thing to do, but because she manages it, the book is much stronger.  While the book is about civil rights, it also explores the complicated relationship of sisters, who are by turns drawn together and then pushed away.  The book is intelligent, explores the complexity of the day fully, and remains very human.

Glory is a great heroine, one who is confused at times about what is happening around her, but also one who sees when a stand must be taken.  Her growing confidence along with the support of her father and sister, create a compelling story of a young woman finding her voice.  The growth of Glory throughout the book is clear and natural.

This is a book that could be shared in the classroom, but I think it would read best on a blazing hot day near a swimming pool to remind everyone of what human rights are.  This is one strong, dazzling debut.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

lions of little rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Little Rock in 1958 was a divided city at the forefront of the integration battles.  Marlee finds herself at the crossroads of that battle when the high schools in Little Rock are closed and her sister is sent away to go to school in another town.  Marlee is a quiet person, often unable to speak up even when she would most like to.  When she meets Liz, a new girl in her class, the two girls become fast friends with Liz helping Marlee find her voice.  The two girls work together on an oral project but before they can present it, Liz is discovered to be passing as a white girl to go to school there.   Marlee has to find a way to continue being friends with the best friend she has ever had, despite the dangers.  Otherwise she’s lost another person that she can actually talk to.  She has to find her voice and learn how to use it to make a difference.

Levine’s setting is one later than most books about Little Rock.  This book takes place a year after the Little Rock Nine enrolled at Little Rock Central High School.  It explores the effect of their courage on the community and also the way that the problems were not solved in that year alone.  The passions on both sides of of the segregation debate are shown clearly, as is the toll that it took on the Little Rock community.  The most important piece of the book is the courage of the ordinary citizen in taking on larger forces and winning for the good of everyone.  These are lessons that are vital for our children to learn.

The title of the book refers to the lions in the Little Rock Zoo.  Marlee lives close enough to the zoo to hear the lions roaring at night before she goes to bed.  The zoo is also the place that she sometimes meets with Liz.  This gives the book a strong level of symbolism that will give young readers something to relate to and discuss as the book progresses.

The character of Marlee is especially well drawn.  She is shy, nearly silent, and underneath that is brave, a good friend, and passionate.  She has trouble communicating with her own mother, rarely speaking, and yet she is inspiring and has a large impact on her mother and others.  There is a strength to her character that is more subtle than most, but also more steely.  She’s an incredible heroine and one that will inspire young readers.  The other characters are equally well done.  Liz, the best friend, is complex and interesting, battling her own problems with being too out-spoken.  Marlee’s parents are both teachers, watching their livelihood and professions being slowly destroyed in Little Rock. 

This powerful book is ideal for using in classrooms talking about civil rights and segregation.  It’s a book that will read aloud well and has plenty of action to keep listeners riveted.  An impressive and memorable book that should be in every public and school library.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

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we march

We March by Shane W. Evans

More than a quarter million people marched on Washington on August 28, 1963.  In simple prose and stirring images, Evans tells the story of one child whose family marched that day.  It is a day of working together, faith, and community that culminates with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  This picture book invites even the youngest of children to feel the power of that day, the message of racial harmony, and to understand how much more work there is yet to do.

The prose here is so simple that it just barely tells the story of the march.  With just a handful of words on each double-page spread, the words are very brief.  But the story being told here, is much more than those simple words.  Rather than obscuring the power of that day with too much exposition, this minimalist approach lets the transcendent moment in history shine.  The book does end with a page of information about the march for those looking for further details.

Evans’ illustrations are filled with strength.  He uses simple lines that he combines with a mix of painting and collage to get a layered effect in his art.  The colors are a mix of subtle and strong.  The illustrations focus on a single family that day, but also convey the size of the crowd and the diversity of the people marching.

A powerful, simple look at a historic moment, this book shines with its strong message of unity.  A great pick to share any time of the year, it’s one worth highlighting for February’s Black History Month.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

thesehands

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Joseph’s grandfather’s hands can still do so many amazing things.  He used to be able to tie knots very quickly, now he helps Joseph learn to tie his shoes.  He can play the piano.  He can show Joseph how to do a waterfall shuffle with cards.  He could pitch a curve ball in his youth, now he can teach Joseph to hit a line drive.  But there were things his hands couldn’t do when he was younger.  His hands were forbidden to touch the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory.  His hands could touch the broom to sweep the floor, work the line, load the trucks, but not touch the bread.  So his hands helped with the protests and organizing, and now all colors of hands can touch the bread dough.  His hands can do anything in the world.

This is a powerful book that speaks of discrimination in a very tangible way that children will clearly understand.  Mason writes from the point of view of that grandfather speaking to Joseph.  The book has a clear point of view, a ringing tone, and a wonderfully light hand.  Looking at a grandfather through his hands makes him so human yet so amazing.  This focused approach makes the book even stronger.

Cooper’s art is stellar.  The illustrations have a softness that is beautiful, all hard edges softer and rounder.  The light in the art is also particularly well done with its warmth that stays consistent even during the dark times of the story.  The art shows such strength, such vivid storytelling.

Highly recommended, this is a picture book about discrimination and civil rights that will work very well with small children.  There’s plenty to discuss here in a classroom or in a living room.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Sit-In

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illlustrated by Brian Pinkney

Inspired by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. four young men sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960.  They placed their simple order of a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side, and sat quietly, refusing to comply with the Whites Only rule.  The next day, more people joined them, sitting still for what was right.  The sit-ins got bigger and moved beyond lunch counters to buses, parks and libraries.  The students were jailed for loafing, but they didn’t resist.  All of these brave actions led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Pinkney has written this book with such verve and style that it reads like a King speech.  Throughout, she has woven the threads of the lunch counter, coffee and recipes, reminding readers again and again where it all started.  Her use of repetition and poetic style really make the book sing.  Brian Pinkney’s illustrations are done in watercolor and India ink.  They capture the time with an exuberant style that is filled with colors and the swirls of motion.  Though the people sit still, the illustrations are in motion, moving to the future with them.

Highly recommended, this book truly captures the wonder of this time, the courage it took to sit still, and the progress that was made.  This husband and wife team have created a powerful book about a vital time in our history.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Little Brown and Company.

Also reviewed by Muddy Puddle Musings and Wild Geese Guides.

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