Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer:The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Bostone Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (InfoSoup)
This biographical picture book is written in verse, singing the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman who was at the heart of the civil rights movement. The book begins with Hamer’s childhood in Mississippi as the youngest of twenty children in a sharecropper family. She grew up working in the cotton fields, seeing it for the slavery that it was. School was only held for four months a year, because the children needed to work in the fields in order for their family to survive. Even in the early part of the 1900s, Hamer was taught that black was beautiful and that she was special. She stayed in the south rather than moving north like her siblings, taking care of her mother and getting married. The in the 1960s, voter registration became an issue and Hamer found herself standing up to the system despite the violence and the threats. She joined the movement for voter rights and starting to use her singing voice to bring people together. Soon she was seen as a leader in the movement, running for office, and speaking out for those who did not have a voice. She is an inspiration for today’s Black Lives Matter movement and youth activism in general.
Weatherford’s writing is gorgeous and the verse she uses to tell Hamer’s story is very effective. She is able to directly talk about racism and violence in her poems, never dancing away from the toughest of subjects. Each poem reads as a call to action, a reason to stand up and make sure civil rights are not being abridged. Even the poem where Hamer is beaten by police and other prisoners rings with strength and power. This is a biography of a woman who was immensely determined and strong. She stood up to the system, risked her own life for change, and used her own skills for the sake of the cause.
Alongside the powerful poetry are equally impressive illustrations. The collage art by Holmes is a mix of paper art and paintings. The illustrations are deep colored and tell the story of oppression and then accomplishment. There are illustrations that take the bright colors of Africa and the 1970s and make the pages blaze while others are dark and somber as violence and death cloud the pages.
Important and powerful, this nonfiction picture book shares the story of a woman vital to the civil rights movement. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (InfoSoup)
This picture book celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lillian is a 100-year-old African-American woman who has lived through all of the problems with African Americans voting in the United States. As she climbs the steep hill to her polling place, she remembers all of the steps that led from slavery to being able to openly vote today. She thinks about her great-grandfather who labored as a slave but also lived to see the Civil War come and allow him to vote for the first time. She remembers her grandfather being charged a poll tax and her uncle being asked unanswerable questions before would be allowed to vote. She remembers running from an angry mob of neighbors who didn’t want women voting. She will never forget the cross burning in their yard. She remembers the people who fought for civil rights, who died for civil rights, who marched for everyone’s rights. She climbs that hill, slowly and steadily, until she reaches her polling place where she can vote without fear of being attacked or turned away.
Winter’s prose is musical and passionate. He draws us all close together and then speaks to us of history and voting and America. He tells us of shameful things that must not be forgotten, of heroes who fell and those who were able to keep marching. He tells us all of our duty in subtle ways that are stirring and moving; that we must vote each and every time, even when it is difficult or there is a steep hill to climb. Winter tells a personal story of voting history in the United States, giving us rich robust story telling rather than dry facts. It is a stirring and noteworthy tale.
Evans’ illustrations are superb. His fine lined illustrations show the determination of Lillian, the horrors of slavery, the dangers of voting, and the courage of many to make changes for the better. His pages swirl with color and texture, fill with sunlight, and dazzle with blue sky. The golden page of the cross burning is disturbing in its vividness, the wash of gold not allowing anywhere to hide.
A gorgeous story accompanied by equally lovely illustrations, this historical picture book is one that should be embraced by elementary teachers during any national election. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The powerful second book in the March graphic novel series continues the true story of the Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis in the first person, this book captures the dangers and violence faced by the Freedom Riders as they headed into the deep south. The nonviolent campaign for civil rights faced beatings, police brutality, bombs, imprisonment and potential death. Yet they found a way to not only keep going but to continue to press deeper and deeper into the south. This book is a harrowing read that shows how one young man became a leader of in civil rights and politics in America.
Lewis’ personal story allows readers a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes. Historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X make appearances in the book, and their own personal perspectives on civil rights and nonviolence is shared. The pushback on the nonviolent aspect of the movement is also shown clearly on the page when new people joined the cause. This shift towards more reactionary tactics threatens to undo the progress that had been made to that point.
Thanks to the graphic novel format, there is no turning away from the violence. Beatings are shown up close and will a frenzy that is palpable. The dangers are not minimized nor overly dramatized, they are shown honestly. There are unforgettable moments throughout the novel, some of them small like a boy being encouraged to claw out a civil rights worker’s eyes. Other moments are larger from the mattress protests in the jail to the march of the children and the police brutality that followed.
Immensely strong and powerful, this graphic novel series allows us to see how much progress was made thanks to these civil rights heroes but also inspires young readers to make more progress against the continued racism in our society. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.
This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.
The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.
An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Violence was a large part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. However in Huntsville, Alabama something quite different happened, quietly and successfully. They managed through cooperation, quiet civil disobedience, and courage to stand up for what was right for all members of their community. There were lunchroom protests where young black people sat at the counters they were not allowed to eat at. There were marches with signs. There were arrests, even one of a mother with an infant that gained national news. There were lovely protests like refusing to purchase new clothes for Easter and instead dressing in blue jeans to deny some stores their business. There were balloons with messages of coming together even as a segregationist ran for governor. There were brave children who attended schools where they were the only people of color. Yet it all happened in a community of support and with no violence at all.
Bass emphasizes throughout her book that there were challenges in the society and reasons for protest. Time and again though just as the reader thinks things will be more rough and confrontational, it abates and progress is made. Her use of details from the other cities in Alabama as well as the national Civil Rights Movement will show children how violent the struggles often were. It is against that backdrop that the progress in Huntsville really shines.
Lewis’s paintings also shine. He captures the strength and determination of those working for their civil rights. On each page there is hope from the children reaching to the sky with their balloons to the one black child in the class and his smile. It all captures both the solemnity of the struggle and the power of achieving change.
Beautifully told and illustrated, this nonfiction picture book offers a compelling story about a community’s willingness to change without violence. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
This is the story of Malcolm X’s boyhood and teen years. Malcolm Little grew up during the Depression, surviving on dandelion greens soup after his father is murdered. When his mother gains the attention of social services, Malcolm is moved out of the family home and away from his days of stealing melons from patches and apples from stands to fill his belly. When Malcolm gets a chance to leave his foster home and head to live with his half-sister in Boston, he jumps at the chance. Boston and its neighborhoods are a buzz with activity and nightlife and Malcolm immediately joins the fray, turning his back firmly on the way he was raised. Malcolm continues to explore the dangerous side of society by dealing reefer, drinking, and dating a white woman. He moves to Harlem where the jazz is even more incredible and where he really gets into serious trouble. This novel follows Malcolm from his childhood until he is imprisoned for theft at age 20 and eventually converts to Islam.
Shabazz is one of the daughters of Malcolm X and according to the Authors Note at the end of the book the story while fiction is firmly based in real life people and events. The writing prowess of Magoon is also here in full force, directing a story that is a headlong dash into sex, drugs and jazz into something that speaks volumes about the intelligence and emotions of the young man at its center. The result is a book that shines light on difficult years of Malcolm X’s life where he lost himself and then the tremendous results of having returned and found himself again.
There is such emotion here on the page. Malcolm’s heart shows in each interaction he has, each moment of losing himself that he manages to find. It is a road map of hope for those who are lost to these moments in their lives that you can return and be better than ever. It also shows the humanity behind the historical figure, the real boy behind the legend.
Powerful, gritty and honest, this novel expands what young readers know about Malcolm X and offers hope for those in their own crisis. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Candlewick Press and Netgalley.
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: 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 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: 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.