RevolutionRevolution (The Sixties Trilogy Book #2) by Deborah Wiles. Scholastic Press, 2014. 544 pages. Publisher recommends for grades 3-7. ISBN: 978-0545106078.

Revolution is a literary tour de force. Through the voice of Sunny, a 12-year-old white girl, and the voice of Ray, a 16-year-old black boy, both living in Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1964, Wiles presents an exquisitely crafted multidimensional picture of a Mississippi town during Freedom Summer.

Most of the story is told by Sunny. She’s having trouble embracing or even tolerating change at home. She loves the Beatles and summertime and her friends. From the time of their first encounter she’s curious about Ray. She’s also curious about the civil rights workers who have come to Mississippi to register black voters. One in particular interests her: Jo Ellen, who is Franny’s sister from Wiles book “Countdown”. People, such as her grandmother, tell Sunny how she ought to think about the civil rights workers and about blacks.  But Sunny isn’t one to let other people tell her much of anything. As her life intersects with Jo Ellen’s and with Ray’s, she becomes more and more aware of how unjustly blacks are treated in her town. She also sees the violence towards blacks and towards “the invaders,“ the civil rights workers, on the part of the police force and others in the community.

In his part of the story, Ray chafes at the lack of equality in the Jim Crow South. For him, the civil rights workers are moving too slowly. He pushes to see if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be enforced in Mississippi almost as soon as it has been signed.

The last episode in the book is not surprising. It should be. It should be inconceivable. But the picture of Mississippi in 1964 is so well drawn that when the episode happens it almost seems inevitable.

In addition to Sunny’s voice and Ray’s voice there is a narrator’s voice that tells us some things about Sunny’s stepbrother and about Sunny’s father that we wouldn’t otherwise know. And there are pages of nonfiction background about the mid-sixties, including a biography of Lyndon Johnson. As in “Countdown,” there are pages of pictures and song lyrics from the time. I’ve wondered if this switching between four different voices would be difficult for the target age group. My current thought is that this is an excellent choice for a middle grade kid who wants a reading challenge. It’s a great example of what literature can do.

Pinterest playlist for Revolution

Copyright © Elizabeth Parrott, 2014.


The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

The Port Chicago 50The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan Publishers), 2014. 208 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 10-14. ISBN: 9781596437968.

Steve Sheinkin is a master of narrative nonfiction. He tells real stories with a fine novelist’s or a poet’s sense of what to include to make the story matter to the reader. And his stories are so fast-paced they are hard to put down. All of that is true for The Port Chicago 50. In this book Sheinkin tells the story of a group of black Navy men during World War II. The men were stationed at Port Chicago, east of San Francisco. They loaded ammunition onto ships. They had no training in handling ammunition. Only black Navy men loaded ammunition, not white Navy men. An explosion killed roughly 300 men, injured many others, and sunk two ships. The surviving members of the Port Chicago divisions were moved to Mare Island Naval Base, closer to San Francisco than they had been at Port Chicago. When the divisions were ordered to resume loading ammunition onto ships the 50 refused. They were tried for mutiny.  A young Thurgood Marshall was outraged by the racism he saw in the mutiny trial. He pressed the Secretary of the Navy to conduct an investigation. Eleanor Roosevelt also let the Secretary of the Navy know that she was concerned about the outcome of the trial.

Sheinkin sets the story of these black enlisted men at Port Chicago within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Before World War II the US military was segregated. Even the blood supply kept on hand for wounded soldiers was divided into white blood and black blood. At the beginning of the war, the decision was made to continue segregation. Besides that, blacks were only considered capable of jobs in the mess hall or other menial tasks. Loading ammunition was considered a menial task. In 1946, as a direct result of the actions of the Port Chicago 50 and the unfairness of their mutiny trial, the secretary of the Navy ordered the Navy to be desegregated. In 1948 President Truman desegregated all branches of the military.

The Port Chicago 50 are not often mentioned when the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are listed. This book makes it clear that they should be mentioned and they should be honored.

The book is full of quotes from the Port Chicago 50 themselves and from the trial transcripts. It’s also full of photos. In the back there are source notes, as well as an extensive bibliography.

March: Book One

March Book OneMarch: Book One. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 128 pages. Recommended for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781603093002.

March: Book One is a partial autobiography in graphic form of Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was 23 when he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.  March: Book One addresses Lewis’s childhood in rural Alabama and his time as a college student in Nashville, Tennessee.

The book starts on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and then switches to the morning of President Obama’s inauguration, when a woman and her two sons show up in Lewis’s office. The mother didn’t expect Lewis to be there. She simply wanted her son’s to see how far society had come from the 1950s and 1960s to a time when Lewis could hold congressional office and Barack Obama could be inaugurated as president. Lewis welcomes the visitors into his office and proceeds to tell the young boys about his life. The boys’ questions partially guide his reminiscences. The book switches back and forth between those reminiscences and January 20, 2009.

Lewis tells the boys that he was responsible for the family’s chickens when he was young, a job he loved. But he hated killing and eating the chickens, perhaps a foreshadowing of his later recognition of the importance of nonviolence in the civil rights movement.

Lewis talks about his fascination with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “social gospel.” Nonviolence was a primary tenant of that gospel. Jim Lawson, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was another early influence in the direction of nonviolence.

The events of the movement to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville where Lewis attended college are detailed in a fast-paced and exciting way. Towards the end of the book, Lewis speaks of his frustration with the “traditional black leadership structure,” including people such as Thurgood Marshall and organizations such as the NAACP. Lewis himself was active in founding SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where Lawson was the keynote speaker.

This is the first graphic book I’ve read. I found that the drawings add emotion. As I sat down to read this book, I wished I had chosen another book. It seems I’ve read a number of books recently that talk about the Jim Crow South. Once I started reading, though, I realized this is a unique story of the Jim Crow South: this is John Lewis’s story. It’s tense and it’s exciting and I learned things I never knew before. I’m eager to read the next two installments in this three book autobiography.

Blog Reviews:

Good Comics For Kids
The Nonfiction Detectives
Teen Reads

Professional Reviews:

Publishers Weekly

The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

The Voice That Challenged a NationThe Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2004. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 9-12. ISBN: 9780618159765.

Marian Anderson was African-American singer of both classical and spiritual music. She was born in 1897 and grew up in Philadelphia. In her teen years, when she began to perform, she traveled extensively. Audiences everywhere marveled at her voice. When she travelled In the South, she was introduced to the indignities of the Jim Crow laws. Finding a place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to perform was difficult. However, Anderson seemed to feel that dealing with segregation in the South was just the price of being able to sing for Southern audiences. Above all, she loved to sing.

Anderson worked with three vocal coaches, and even after she stopped needing coaches, she still critiqued her own performances and tried to learn from what she felt she had done well and from what she felt she had not done well. She spent extended periods of time in Europe in order to learn the languages of her repertoire. She performed for Heads of State, for Kings and for Queens in Europe.

Back in the United States, in the spring of 1939, Anderson wanted to perform in Washington DC. All venues except Constitution Hall were too small for the expected audience. The Daughters of the American Revolution owned Constitution Hall and had a strict policy forbidding African-Americans to perform at the Hall. Anderson had performed for President and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House, but she could not perform at Constitution Hall, in spite of pleas from dignitaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, the Interior Secretary.  Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR. On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson gave a free concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people came to hear her sing. The concert became a model for protest events throughout the civil rights movement. Marian Anderson didn’t intend to be a figure in the civil rights movement. She only wanted to be a singer. But after the concert at the Lincoln Memorial she joined the NAACP and became one of their most effective fundraisers.

Freedman’s research is impressive. He deftly weaves together Anderson’s career and the civil rights movement. Photographs set the context.

Marian Anderson is a role model for any artist struggling to learn and perfect their art, and for any person of color seeking to work in this country where segregation hasn’t disappeared.

Blog Reviews:

Maw Books Blog
Orange Marmalade
Teacher Will Run for Books

Professional Reviews:

Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews

Book Trailer:

Marian Anderson Singing:

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

Ave Maria

What Was the March on Washington?

What Was the March on WashingtonWhat Was the March on Washington? Written by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Tim Tomkinson. Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 to 12. ISBN: 9780448462875.

I was five years old on August 28, 1963. I remember that my brother and I stayed with neighbors while my parents rode on a school bus from New Jersey to Washington DC. My brother, who was almost two, cried all night long and kept me awake. I was forced to eat a tomato at dinner. My parents came home and talked about how hard it was to sleep on a school bus and how hot it was in Washington. I thought they had done something very important by going to the March. I knew they enjoyed the camaraderie of the day, but they never told me anything about the speakers or the singers.

In reading “What Was the March on Washington?” I found out much more about the March. I now know about the meticulous planning that went into the March. I know about the people, 250,000 people arriving on bus after bus and train after train. I know the path the March took. I’ve always known that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March. But now I know all the other speakers and singers, and I know that Dr. King stopped reading from his speech and started speaking from his heart when he began talking about his dream.

Krull presents all this information very clearly. She starts by describing the racism that existed in this country at that time, and also the key events of the Civil Rights struggle before the March. After that she explains the extensive preparation for the March, undertaken by Randolph and by Bayard Rustin. She talks at length about the March itself, and then addresses the time after the March: the death of JFK, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the death of Dr. King.

In the middle of the book are 16 pages of black-and-white photos. The book has many black-and-white drawings, mostly of the people involved. It helps to have those images in one’s mind when reading about the people. At the end there’s a timeline and a bibliography.

The book is fun to read, and I’m so glad to know more about what my parents saw and heard while I was gagging on a tomato.

Blog Reviews:

Helen Foster James

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March

Weve got a jobWe’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson.  Peachtree Publishers, 2012.  180 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 10 and up. ISBN: 9781561456277.

YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist, 2013

In the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, black leaders from throughout the US wanted to have a series of large demonstrations against segregation. The leaders wanted adults in Birmingham to march and allow themselves to be arrested until the jails could hold no more people. The black adults, though, wanted to wait and see what would happen to segregation when a new city government was put in place. So the leaders turned to children. Thousands of children marched and thousands were arrested. The impact was very significant both on a local level and on a national level. We’ve Got a Job follows four of the student protesters, three of whom were trained in nonviolence and a fourth who became violent. This is a very important story, one which ultimately came a catalyst for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I have a very strong reaction to the story, a reaction different from any other review of this book I have read.  I was five in 1963. Over the course of the next several years, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a hero of mine.  It never occurred to me that King was not entirely the noble, non-violent idealist I thought him to be.  He was also a political pragmatist. The civil rights movement was losing momentum in 1963, and King needed something to bring it back to life. Adults in Birmingham weren’t willing to help, so he let children march and go to jail. I should point out that King wasn’t in favor of letting children march, but he allowed it.  I should also point out that the children were not being coerced. They knew there was a job to do and they were willing to do it. But can children make an informed decision? Is it fair to let children put themselves in the path of dogs and firehoses?

It’s a credit to Cynthia Levinson’s very straightforward telling of this story that it caused me to doubt one of my lifelong heroes. A glimpse into the fallibility and pragmatism of the leaders of political movements is a good thing, as is seeing the confusion of those leaders.

The children are the heroes in this story, and in reading the unemotional accounts of acts of white hatred against the black children, it’s clear that they were heroic indeed.

Other Blog Reviews

Boys and LiteracyA Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea CozyPractically ParadiseThe YA YA YAs

The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little RockThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine.  Putnum Juvenile, 2012.  304 Pages. Publisher recommends for ages 10 and above.  ISBN: 9780399256448.

Marlee stands on the high dive at her local pool in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958. She’s almost 13 years old, and she’s afraid to jump. Her 16-year-old sister helps her climb down the ladder. Marlee is afraid of heights and she’s afraid of talking to people. She speaks freely to her family, but not to people outside her family.  A new girl at school, Liz, befriends Marlee and helps her to increase the number of people she’s willing to talk to.

The Lions of Little Rock is historical fiction. It is set four years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v The Board of Education that American schools should not be segregated.  In Little Rock, the 1958-59 school year is called The Lost Year.  It’s the year after the Little Rock Nine, nine black students, were escorted into Little Rock’s Central High School by Federal troops.  In 1958-59 the Governor of Arkansas and the Little Rock School District have decided to solve the problem of integration by simply refusing to open four of the high schools in Little Rock.

As the story progresses, Marlee becomes more and more troubled about segregation.  It’s a highly volatile issue, at times even dividing Marlee’s family.  At the suggestion of her Sunday School teacher, Marlee joins a group of women who are working to re-open the four high schools that have been closed. She also faces down a segregationist who is antagonizing her.

Grassroots politics were pivotal at this time in Little Rock’s history.  We watch as Marlee and her parents become more and more politically involved, and as decisions made at a higher level affect what happens at the grassroots level.

The story, told in first person, moves back and forth between politics and Marlee’s own struggles to be more courageous.  Friends come and go both at school and at home. Marlee becomes more adept at dealing with the absence of friends, just as she becomes more adept at making new ones.

There is an extensive Author’s Note at the end of the book. The note discusses The Lost Year. Following the note, there are citations for several books that contain more information about the year.

The story moves quickly, with short chapters. There’s a lot of action to pack into this book if it’s going to tell the story of the lost year through Marlee’s eyes.  The Lions of Little Rock succeeds quite well.