Monday, January 11, 2010

Civil Rights Chapter Books

I cried this morning (Sunday) in my kitchen when I finished Yankee Girl by Mary Ann Rodman.   The only one around to witness my tears as I set the book down on the counter was my 14-year-old slightly jaded son.  He saw my moment though and said "why are you crying, Mom?" to which I replied "It was a good book".  He hugged me.  [smile]
                                                            Yankee Girl

By Mary Ann Rodman
I love how powerful literature can be and this is a perfect example.  Mary Ann Rodman reconstructs her own childhood during the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, MS.  In this recreated story Alice Ann Moxley is the main character and her father is an FBI agent.  Because of his job the family moves from Chicago to Jackson in 1964.  Alice tries hard to make friends from her first day and she can't quite get it together.  She wants to be friends with "the cheerleaders," you know, the popular, pretty girls of 6th grade but they won't have anything to do with her  'cuz she talks like a Yankee.  She does make friends with her next door neighbor, Jeb, which is fine but well, he is a boy, after all and not the close companionship she was seeking.  Through Jeb she learns the ins and out of Southern "rules" like you don't introduce yourself to the "help." Jeb repeats all these "rules" like he's talking about what he ate for lunch-it's second nature to him and he doesn't really understand why Alice doesn't just know these things too.

Two weeks before school begins Alice's family learns her school will be integrated for the first time.  Reverend Taylor's daughter, Valerie joins Alice's class and with charm and grace endures all manner of horrific taunting from her classmates .  Since the cheerleaders didn't accept her attempt at friendship, Alice figures she'll try to make friends with Valerie.  Hmm, not so easy in Mississippi, 1964. Valerie doesn't want to be friends with any white kids she plainly tells Alice. Some of the antics pulled by the cheerleader group are sick but believable if you've read any of the accounts of The Little Rock Nine at Central High in Little Rock, AR.
I loved Alice's character, even as I wanted to shake her!  Somehow every young girl goes through this terrible trial and error of friendship. The complexity of trying to be liked and included; the essential human need to be part of group overshadowed Alice's journey until she figures out what is truly important and she figures it out much earlier than many do in life. Through Alice and Valerie's fathers we experience many of the days tragedies up-close as Alice's father is called to work frequently and Reverend Taylor works alongside Dr. King.
 Highly Recommended-High Elementary-Middle School Fiction
5/5 peaceful stars

Several weeks ago I read another interesting historical fiction set in 1917 Alabama.  I read this one with my long distance friends and reading buddies (V and A-when are we going to talk about this book??).  I think the two pair well together.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had
by Kristin Levine

Harry "Dit" Sims and Emma Walker are the unlikelist of friends.  Emma, the educated twelve-year-old daughter of Moundsville's new postmaster, is all wrong as far as Dit's concerned.  Dit was told the new postmaster would have a boy his same age, not a girl.  But the rest of the town  is more surprised by the family's color  than whether Emma's a boy or a girl.  No one said the new postmaster and his family would be black.

It's 1917, Moundville, Alabama and Dit finds friendship with Emma to be a completely new arena for him.  While I enjoyed their friendship it did not capture my attention as much as Yankee Girl.  I enjoyed Dit and Emma and liked how they grew in cultural knowledge of each other.  I just did not get as involved in their friendship as much.  I don't know what makes the difference-what it is about the story that makes you fall in love with characters??  Levine's story is well-developed but at the end when Emma's family moves back East I was left feeling empty;  life in Moundville changed only temporarily. 
Both books are wonderful and worth the read.
Highly Recommended-High Elementary-Middle School Fiction
4/5 peaceful stars
Kristin Levine's website click here.

Happy Reading!!


Jenners said...

I love when a book makes me cry. It amazes me that symbols on a page can create such strong emotions!

Patricia J. Weaver said...

I know Mary Ann and if you loved Yankee Girl, try Jimmy Stars, her lastest middle grade book. She writes picture books too and "First Grade Stinks" is my grandbabies favorite.

Paige Y. said...

Yankee Girl is a great read but the cover makes it a hard sell to my students. I think it's an important book, and one that I try to booktalk each year.