For many years I have hinted at my desire to have an all school read. This year it is actually going to happen. After much thought and discussion the Diversity Committee, the Head of School, and I decided to focus on African American life in the 20th century.
It took quite awhile to narrow the choices down to two titles at each of four levels--Adult, Middle School, Elementary Chapter Book, and Picture Book. Why was it so hard to choose? I think it is both the wealth of titles and the lack of titles that met my criteria that added to the challenge. There are many books out there that cover this topic and it is a very wide topic indeed, but I wanted each book to be of high quality and high interest. The books need to speak to all the members of our community from those who have experienced struggles first hand to those who have never felt a need to think much about it.
With those goals in mind, I asked fellow workers and parents at the school for suggestions. I also searched myriad lists of suggested reading. Then I read some books and read some more. There are many other titles worthy of being on the list, but the list that follows represents a variety of titles, authors, and styles. I have personally profited from reading each of the titles. I will be re-reading them this summer so that I will be prepared to join the community discussions in the fall.
Everyone is invited to read one or more of the books on the list. Families might want to read a picture book or two together or perhaps tackle one of the novels for the elementary readers as their bedtime reading. Middle School students may prefer to relax with the easier reads or challenge themselves with the adult titles. In the fall we will offer discussion groups as well as bring in people from the community to add to our understanding. It is may hope that there will be several opportunities for all ages to engage in a variety of ways.
If this works well, and I am optimistic that it will, we will try a different read next summer so start thinking of topics and titles now.
The First Annual Emerson All School Read presents its selections:
Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle – This non-fiction book and National Book Award Winner looks at Detroit in 1925 and the tensions that arose when an African American doctor moved into a previously all-white neighborhood. The chain of events eventually brought Clarence Darrow to Detroit to represent the defense.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines - A black man who happens upon a robbery gone wrong is convicted of murdering a white man. His defense lawyer refers to him as a "hog" and not "human". The man's aunt enlist the help of the local teacher to help this young man realize that he is human and has reason to be proud. This is a very moving book.
Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals - Beals was one of the people who helped to integrate the school and she tells a moving story of the experience of a young girl who faces anger and hatred all around while she simply wants to get an education and be a typical teen-ager.
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm - This graphic novel tells more about an African American who wanted to be a professional baseball player than it does about Satchel Paige. In so doing it gives a strong look at race relations in the South prior to the Civil Rights Act.
UPPER ELEMENTARY NOVELS
Christopher Paul Curtis is one of only two African American men currently writing for children and he is a native of Flint, Michigan, so I selected two of his popular, award winning books.
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis - Follow an African American family living in Flint, Michigan, as they travel to Alabama to visit relatives. Curtis has an amazing talent for capturing the voice of a young boy so there is a lot of humor in this story along with a good view of the realities of life in the North and the South in 1963.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis - Flint is facing hard times in this novel set in 1936 and times are especially hard for 10 year old Bud who is a motherless boy on the run and looking for his father. This novel gives a good picture of life during the Great Depression and is filled with humor, great characters and a taste of jazz.
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles - The day that the Civil Rights Act went into effect and its affect on two small boys in the South is told with meaningful text and beautiful illustrations in this story that will be understandable to all but the youngest listener or reader. Be forewarned that it has one very touching scene that may bring tears to your eyes, but probably won't upset your children as much as it does the adult reading it.
A Taste of Colored Water by Matt Faulkner – Set in the deep South in the 1960s, this book features detailed illustrations that tell the back story of two rural white children wanting to taste “colored water” in the city. They don't get to taste the water because they run into police and protests. Parents will want to help children understand what is happening and what is really meant by "colored water".
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson - Two little girls, one black and one white, have been told never to cross the fence that stretched through town. Gradually they get to know each other while sitting on the top of the fence.
Let me know what you think of these books as you read them throughout the summer. We can start our discussions right here any time you want to do so.