A Ride to Remember by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781419736858)
Back in the 1960’s, African-Americans were not allowed to enter the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore. They were not allowed to sit on the grass, share treats or ride on the carousel. As the world around them began to change and become less segregated, Gwynn Oak continued its policies. They became the center of protests where hundreds were arrested. A mother and child who were African American and light skinned covertly entered the park and were allowed to enjoy themselves for hours. They shared their story with the press. As the pressure built, the park’s owners agreed to allow everyone into the park and to drop any charges from the protests. The first day the park was open was August 28, 1963. That day, a little girl named Sharon Langley, was the first African-American to ride the carousel with her father holding onto her. A photo of the ride made the papers as did the other major news story of the day, when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The carousel was moved to Washington, D. C. where Sharon took a ride on the fiftieth anniversary of her first ride in Baltimore.
The authors make a point of framing the tumultuous 1960’s for young readers. They have a child ask questions about why African-Americans were not allowed to enter the park. This is such an important moment in the book, giving modern children a lens into the inherent societal racism of the time, racism that is not erased in our modern society either, of course. They then turn to the protests about the park, showing the bravery of the people who protested, who went to jail, and who insisted on staying overnight to make a point. The body of the book does a great job offering historical perspective as well as details about the protests and efforts to desegregate the park. More information is also shared in the final pages, including more details of the events in the book, a bibliography and a timeline.
Cooper’s art is done with a lush softness to the lines. He used oil erasure on illustration board to capture an almost sepia-toned historical feel. The faces he shows of the people involved are tremendously moving, showing that this was about people insisting on change.
In a single story, children will deeply understand what the civil rights struggle was about. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)
This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.
Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
In 1959, desegregation of schools had become law and could no longer be delayed but that does not mean that it was welcomed. Sarah Dunbar and her younger sister are two of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School. She walks a gauntlet the first day of school just to enter the building where adults and students alike spit on her, scream racist remarks, and throw things. It doesn’t get much better inside with the abusive language continuing, no one willing to sit near the black students in class, and the teachers doing nothing to stop it. Linda Hairston is one of the white students that attends Jefferson High. She is also the daughter of the owner of the local newspaper, a man who is fiercely critical of the attempts at desegregation. Linda has been taught all of her life to fear her father and to keep separate from black people. Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah spend more time together and learn about each other. To make things more complicated, they are also attracted to one another, something that neither of their communities could understand much less embrace. This is a powerful story about two girls caught in a city at war about desegregation where their own secrets could get them killed.
Talley has created one of the most powerful fictional books about desegregation I have seen. Using the worst of racist terms that flow like water across the page, again and again, yet never becoming numbing, the language alone is shocking and jarring for modern readers. Add in the physical and emotional abuse that the black students suffered and you begin to realize the pressure that they were under not only to survive day to day but to excel and prove that they are worthy to be in the school. The gradual transformation of the attitudes of both Sarah and Linda are done believably and honestly. Nicely, Linda is not the only one who grows and changes in the process.
Adding in the LGBT element was a brave choice. While the book is about desegregation as much of the story, the attraction and relationship of the two girls is an equally powerful part of the book. Modern readers will understand their need for secrecy and somehow the hatred of gay people allows readers to better understand the hatred of African-Americans depicted on the page. It is clear by the end that bigotry is bigotry and love is love, no matter the color or the sex. Talley beautifully ties the two issues together in a way that strengthens them both.
Powerful, wrenching and brutal, this book has heroines of unrivaled strength and principles that readers will fear for and cheer for. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss.
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.