Martin Luther King Day is January 18th It has been a national holiday since 1983 and a school holiday for most children. A chance for kids to stay home and chill. But, what if they spent some of that day reading about why they are home in the first place?
There are numerous fictional stories aimed at kids that bring to life the real struggle for civil rights. These stories can open eyes better than many a dry history lesson. I’m not saying as a replacement, but as an addition. In elementary and intermediate school it’s easier for teachers to integrate lessons and subjects, but in middle school it takes more effort and planning. That being said, what follows is a short list of well-written books that teachers could use, parents could suggest, or kids might just pick up and read. I’ve read each of these, and I’m sure there are many others out there.
FRANCIE, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, is a good look at life before the Civil Rights movement made its way on the scene. This wonderfully written story, by Karen English, takes place in the 40s or 50s in rural Alabama. Written from the viewpoint of the title character, Francie Weaver, it tells of a life of hard work and discrimination, and how sometimes you just have to stick your neck out for the less fortunate.
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, 1963, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, is one of my favorite middle-grades books. In fact, it tied in to the original title of my blog, now called Carry Me Home. This story begins and ends in Flint, Michigan, with a trip to B’ham in the middle. Readers will laugh and cry along with the Watson family as the kids experience the south for the first time.
As in many coming of age stories, there is a loss of innocence and a struggle with the knowledge that the world is a complex place. This happens not only with the main character, Kenny, but also with his older brother, Byron. Though filled with humor, this book deals with racial issues in a way that opens the eyes of the reader.
GLORY BE is a middle-grades novel by Augusta Scattergood. The story takes place in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer, 1964.
Glory is the main character who turns twelve on July Fourth, in the midst of a very unsettling time in the fictional town of Hanging Moss. (There is a real neighborhood called Hanging Moss East in Jackson, MS). The book is well written and keeps the attention of the reader. There are numerous other characters, including her sister Jesslyn; old friend-enemy-friend Frankie; new friend Laura; and the new guy in town who looks just a bit like Elvis. The author did her homework to make the story believable and accurate.
CROSSING JORDAN was written by an author who has a real heart for children. “Sometimes an author writes a book because they feel they have to do something. CROSSING JORDAN is that kind of book. I wrote it for the girl next door and for any other kid who is being taught prejudice at home,” says Adrian Fogelin. I heard Fogelin speak at a writers’ conference and have since followed her on facebook and at her blog.
This book is a story of friendship amidst the backdrop of prejudice circa 2000. Cassie (white) tells the story of her budding friendship with Jemmie (black) who has moved in next door. Set in Florida, where the author lives, it is a touching and believable story.
The books in this selection are suitable for younger children, also. And for adults, like me, who enjoy a good story no matter the recommended reading level.