Glory Be

by Augusta Scattergood
First sentence: “What was taking Frankie so long?
Support your local independent bookstore: by it there!
Content: There’s some physical violence. It’s short and the chapters are short. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Glory, the youngest daughter of a Southern preacher, has grown up all her life in Hanging Moss, Mississippi. She hasn’t thought much about how her cook, Emma, is black. Or why she doesn’t see any black people at the pool or library. But, it’s the summer of 1964, and things are changing. The pool closes “for repairs”, but it’s because the pool committee doesn’t want “those people” sullying the waters. They try to do the same with the library, but the librarian stands up and keeps it open. And Glory’s best friend, Frankie, is on the line because his older brother and father are leading the charge against desegregation.

This had a lot of the same feeling as The Help did: white southern people being enlightened and standing up to their racist neighbors, but not really doing much else. I don’t know. It wasn’t bad, and I’m glad that white people have this kind of awaking story, but it kind of left a sour aftertaste. It was a very white book (I am surprised it was on my list for a mulitcultural children’s literature class…) and I wanted, well, more. Emma, the cook, didn’t play a huge role, and the whole book had a white savior narrative to it: Look! White people can recognize that black people are people too. Ugh.

I wanted more.

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March (Book Two and Three)

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
First sentence: “Brother John — Good to see you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (book 2, book 3).
Others in the series: March (Book One)
Content: There is a lot of violence, and use of the n-word. It’s in the non-fiction area of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up where March (Book One) leaves off. Lewis is part of student non-violent protests in Nashville in the early 1960s, but soon leaves that to join the Freedom Riders: a group of African Americans who, in 1961-1962, put supposed desegregation to the test. They rode Greyhound buses though the south, stopping at cities in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, with — as you would guess — pretty disastrous results. They were yelled at, beaten, arrested, thrown in jail, loaded up in cars and left in Klan territory, and the buses were blown up… let’s just say that, in short, white people in the south were TERRIBLE people.

All through this, Lewis (and others) preached the gospel of non-violence (which just makes white people look like terrorists. Really.): they didn’t fight back, they didn’t talk back, they just exercised their right (!) to do what they feel they had a right to do.

The book also follows Lewis through the March on Washington in 1963. (I didn’t know he was there, or even that he spoke! In fact, there’s a side note by him that out of everyone who spoke, he was the only one still living.) It was fascinating, learning about the politics behind that march, and about Robert Kennedy’s change of heart as well.

It’s a well-done graphic novel, one that is still very timely to read. As a white person, it definitely made me more aware of what people went through in the 1960s to get just basic rights, and I’m more aware now of how those rights aren’t still completely equal

March (Book Three) picks up after the church bombing the beginning of 1964 and goes through the march from Selma to Birmingham. My thoughts are pretty much the same as after reading book two: white people are so entrenched in their “way of life” that they can’t abide by change at all. And the thing I kept coming back to was that, in the intervening 54 years, that white people are still entrenched in their “way of life”, we just call it by different things now. It’s still racism. And it still is wrong. This one was difficult to read, and made me think, over and over, that an eye for an eye just makes everyone blind. I hope I’d have the courage to stand up to those who use their power to make others “less than”, those who call others “animals” or “dirty” or “from s-hole countries”, those who want to abuse their power to keep themselves in power… even if it means sacrificing my life. John Lewis and all those who stood by him are true heroes, and I wish there were more people like them now.

Excellent.

A Dozen Books about the African-American Experience

It’s Martin Luther King Jr Day tomorrow, and we’re probably celebrating by going to see Selma. And I know I’m a bit early for Black History Month, but I thought I’d do a list of books that celebrate the depth and breadth of the African-American experience. I don’t think I came up with one that’s really comprehensive, especially since I tend toward the historical fiction, but it’s a start.

Historical:

Sugar, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: “It’s 1871, and slavery is supposed to be over. However, for ten-year-old Sugar, on a sugar plantation in Louisiana, it doesn’t feel like it. Sure, the former slaves are free to go if they can, but they’re paid so little that it’s almost impossible for them to leave.”

Stella By Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper: “It’s 1932, North Carolina. The whole country is in the throes of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt is running for office. For Stella and her family, this doesn’t really matter. They’re more concerned about making ends meet. And avoiding the local Klu Klux Klan.”

Mare’s War, by Tanita S. Davis: “As they start driving, Mare starts talking about her past: what made her run away from Bay Slough, Alabama and join up in the Women’s Army Corps near the end of World War II. Her experiences in both a segregated south and a 1940s midwest, not to mention in the army. The chapters alternate between then — Mare’s history — and now — the road trip — and as the book unfolds, we learn more about all three of our characters”

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith: “Ida Mae Jones has always wanted to fly. Ever since she was put behind the wheel of her daddy’s plane and taught how, she knew that this was what she was born to do. Except, she’s an African American and lives in the outskirts of New Orleans. Not only can she not get a pilot’s license because she’s a woman; she can’t get one because she’s the wrong color.”
March: Book One, by John Lewis:This is a slim graphic memoir, telling the first part of Congressman John Lewis’s story. This volume starts with his childhood in Alabama, and goes through the Nashville sit-ins that he participated in. My favorite thing about this memoir was the framing: It opens with Lewis waking up the morning of Obama’s first inauguration, and the story unfolds as Lewis is remembering his path to D.C. as he tells it to a couple of constituents who have stopped by his office.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis: “: This was a terrific book — a wonderful portrayal of a black family in early 1960s Flint, MI. It was hilarious (all the way through the end): the narrator called his family the “Wacky Watsons” and they were.”

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson: “Her childhood begins in Ohio, but mostly it’s spent in South Carolina, with her grandparents, and in Brooklyn, where her mother finally settled with Jacqueline and her brothers and sister. I kept trying to figure out the timeline (if she was born in 1963, then it must be…) but eventually, I just gave up and let myself get absorbed in the story.”

No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: “The book follows Lewis and his family — his parents, and a couple of his brothers — through most of the 20th century, beginning in 1906, through his many failed ventures to his inception and success in the bookstore. It’s fascinating to read and think about: Lewis’s big thing was that black people can’t stop being Negros — that is, defined by white people — until they know their history. Which means: they need to read. And read about their people.”

Contemporary:

Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper: “Melody is very, very smart. She’s known words and ideas and concepts since she was very little. She loves music, and can see colors when it plays. But, she has no way to tell anyone any of this. Melody has cerebral palsey, and while she can hear and understand, she just can’t communicate. Which is incredibly frustrating to her.”

Peace, Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson: “The book is a series of letters from Lonnie — aka Locomotion — to his younger sister Lili. They’ve been put in different foster homes after a fire killed their parents. The loss is still there, at least for Locomotion, and he’s made it his “job” to help Lili not forget his parents.”

Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri; “Living in Detroit, twelve-year-old Cole and his mom are scraping by. Sure, he doesn’t go to school that often, but he’s okay. Until the day he gets caught, his mom flips, and drives him to Philadelphia to live with a father Cole has never met. Once he gets to Philly, angry about being abandoned (as he sees it), by his mom, he decides he will have nothing to do with his father, or the stables he runs in North Philly.”

Saving Maddie, by Varian Johnson: Joshua Wynn is a good guy. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t party, he doesn’t have sex. He chooses leading his church’s youth group over playing on the school basketball team. Granted, he’s the preacher’s kid, and there’s an enormous amount of pressure on Joshua to be good. And Joshua’s mostly okay with that.  That is, until Maddie Smith — his best childhood friend who moved away when she was 13 — moves back into town.”

So, I know I left off a lot. What are some of the best ones?

Stella By Starlight

by Sharon M. Draper
First sentence: “Nine robed figures dressed all in white.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty intense stuff going on in this book, by Draper never lets it get too dark. She knows her audience and (rightly) assumes they can handle anything that is thrown at them. Be prepared, however, for some discussion. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) at the bookstore.

It’s 1932, North Carolina. The whole country is in the throes of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt is running for office. For Stella and her family, this doesn’t really matter. They’re more concerned about making ends meet. And avoiding the local Klu Klux Klan.

And they’re doing a pretty good job until Stella’s dad, pastor, and a family friend decide to exercise their constitutional right and vote. Then, all hell breaks loose.

There’s actually a lot more going on than that: Draper knows her history, and paints a picture of what life was like for African Americans struggling to get ahead in the 1930s. The one-room school, with a teacher who handles all grades next to the white school where they get new books. The small houses and hand-me-over clothes. Having to enter in the back door of shops. Or, most tellingly, a white doctor who won’t come help Stella’s mother after she’d been bitten by a rattler.

And Stella is such an engaging character to go through all this with. She’s an observant, smart girl, but one who also struggles with writing in school. She’s trying to figure out her place in life, how to navigate the injustices of her situation, and still come out ahead. She’s got fantastic parents, and a supportive community. There’s so much that I found admirable about the way she deals with her situation. And so much to discuss (I know; I ended up talking to my family) when you’re done.

Dollbaby

by Laura Lane McNeal
First sentence: “There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: One of the protagonists is a teenage girl, and there’s a lot of good historical information. There’s nothing truly objectionable, so even though this is in the Adult Fiction, I wouldn’t hesitate giving it to an avid teen reader who showed some interest.

I picked this one up because a couple of people at the bookstore have been raving about it. “It’s funny,” they said, “If you liked The Help, then you’ll love this one.”

I liked The Help well enough, and I figured it’s the South, set in New Orleans, during the whole Civil Rights movement. I like quirky characters. This one will surely be a good book.

Well… Not so much. Yes, it is set in New Orleans in 1964, when our main character, Ibby (short for Liberty) is dropped off at her grandmother’s house. Her father had recently died in a freak accident, and Ibby’s mother can’t handle being a single parent. Ibby’s grandmother, Fannie, is one of those eccentric Southern ladies, who believes in being proper and feisty and doesn’t trust anyone except her help, who are pretty much like family. (But heaven forbid if her granddaughter takes up with a colored man.)

This just didn’t do anything for me. Sure, it’s got those quirky Southern characters, but that’s about it. The plot was lacking, and I didn’t connect with the characters at all. Maybe I’ve been gone from the South for too long, but I wasn’t even entertained by the quirkiness. Or horrified by the racism. Mostly, I was just… bored.

I ended up skimming the second half of the book, just to find out what happens. Books like these make me wonder if I’ve been ruined for adult books after all.

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

by Amélie Sarn, translated from French by Y. Maudet
First sentence: “The women walk slowly, heads down.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: Augst 5, 2014
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There is violence, some mild swearing, and some teen drinking and smoking. I’ll probably put this in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a 7th- or 8th-grader who is interested.

Sohane Chebli is many things: 18 years old, a daughter, a sister, a scholar, French, and a Muslim. She lives in an apartment complex full of others of  Algerian heritage, and mostly she and her younger sister (by 11 months), Djelila, get along with their neighbors, schoolmates, and each other just fine.

Then, during Sohane’s senior year, a few young Muslim men take it on themselves to start harassing Djelila because she dresses in jeans and tighter shirts. Because she wears makeup. Because she smokes with her friends. And Sohane, whose path has become more conservative — she wears the hijab — doesn’t step in to defend her sister. Partially because Sohane thinks her sister is wrong for following a path away from Islam. And partially because Sohane’s been expelled from school, due to a French law banning all religious symbols, for wearing the hijab.

I’m going to spoil a bit — it’s not too bad, because from the beginning,  you know this — but Djelila is killed by the Muslim boys for her refusal to conform to their expectations. And it’s that paired with the other side of the coin: Sohane’s constant discrimination for wearing the hijab. (Not that I mean to compare murder with discrimination.) But it got me thinking: why do we feel a need to tell others how to behave? Why did these boys feel compelled to not only shame, but eventually kill a girl for not following her/their religion to the letter? Why did people refuse to see Sohane’s hijab wearing as an expression of her religion, instead interpreting it as an act of repression? It’s a thought-provoking book.

And it’s written well, in tight, short chapters. It took a bit for me to catch the rhythm of the book because it’s translated, but once I did, I was hooked. And I wasn’t disappointed, in the end.

March (Book One)

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
First sentence: “John, can you swim?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: The only objectionable thing in the book is the use of the “n” word (which doesn’t make the white Southerners look good at all). The library has it filed under adult graphic novels, but I think I’d put it with the teen ones. I’m sure even a curious 10- or 11-year-old would get something out of this one as well.

I picked this up because it made the SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids) Books contenders list and I like to (try to) read as many as I can before the competition starts. Like every year, I found a wonderful book I’d have never picked up otherwise.

This is a slim graphic memoir, telling the first part of Congressman John Lewis’s story. (For the record, Hubby knew who Lewis was; I did not.) This volume starts with his childhood in Alabama, and goes through the Nashville sit-ins that he participated in. My favorite thing about this memoir was the framing: It opens with Lewis waking up the morning of Obama’s first inauguration, and the story unfolds as Lewis is remembering his path to D.C. as he tells it to a couple of constituents who have stopped by his office.

It’s your pretty typical Civil Rights story: sharecropper parents save money for their own farm. After an exposure to a different way of doing things (he visited his uncle and aunt in New York City for a summer), child wants an education, rather than be stuck at home doing what his parents do. (I loved the bits about raising chickens, though.) He feels a call to be a preacher, and ends up at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. There is an interesting aside here: Lewis wanted to go to college in Alabama, closer to home, and actually met with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his lawyers to talk about segregating Troy State. In the end, though, Lewis’s family didn’t want to chance the backlash, so he stayed in Nashville.

He was very influenced by the school of non-violent protests, and he got involved with a group that organized the sit-ins in Nashville in 1959. I think this was the most moving part of the book; the abuse and hurt that Lewis and his friends endured just so they could have the same services as the white people in Nashville was pretty brutal. This volume ends just after the Nashville mayor decrees that all businesses should be integrated. I’m quite interested to see where Lewis’s story goes from here.

I loved the format as well: there aren’t enough non-fiction graphic novels (at least that I’ve read), and the art — done in stark black and white — adds to the intensity of the story. I’m glad I picked this one up.