Monica Clark-Robinson’s Let the Children March

Let the Children MarchLet the Children March, written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison, is a brilliant and bold children’s picture book that brings the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963 to life for young readers.

In the South, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation, which led to unequal access to education, employment, health care, and housing. Leaders in the Black Civil Rights movement came up with many strategies to end segregation.

A powerful strategy of resistance, peaceful protest, prompted the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963. Children took to the streets to demand equality. Hundreds of brave young people were arrested, beaten, bullied, attacked with powerful hoses, and threatened with dogs. They continued to march. Images of their protest, and the violent state sanctioned response to it, were televised. Many of the protester’s demands were begrudgingly met as a result of the protest.

Clark-Robinson’s first-person narrative give the book a sense of urgency; events seem to unfold in real time as we march with the narrator. The first-person narrative also allows access to the narrator’s emotions, which range from fear to conviction and pride.

On page after page, Morrison’s images capture the complex emotions of all involved. Each illustration truly is a work of art. He unflinchingly conveys the brutality experienced by children. In a two-page spread, several Black children huddle against a building as three white men spray them with water that pounds their vulnerable bodies. Two dogs rip the clothes off children, drawing blood in the process.

In thoughtful words and detailed illustrations, this pivotal moment in US history is made accessible to children in all its pain, shame, and pride. Morrison’s images show what Clark-Robinson’s sparse, carefully chosen words tell.

While reading, it is impossible to ignore racism’s presence in US history, and of course, its present. Empowering back matter addresses children as activists who can become educated and participate meaningfully in community life.

This book will make a wonderful addition to school and personal libraries. It would work well as part of a multidisciplinary lesson about history, literature, and civic engagement.

 

Deborah Hopkinson’s Carter Reads the Newspaper

Carter Reads the Newspaper

Deborah Hopkinson makes history accessible to young readers through remarkably engaging and accessible children’s picture books. Her recent publication, Carter Reads the Newspaper, is no exception. Although I was planning on sticking to #ownvoices books throughout Black History Month, Hopkinson’s book is a wonderful description of Carter G. Woodson’s life and a moving description of the founding of Black History Month, so it seemed only fitting to include it.

Carter G. Woodson established what was then called Negro History Week in 1926. According to Hopkinson, he was partially motivated by his desire to prove a Harvard history professor, who told him Black people had no history, incorrect.

Woodson earned a PhD in history from Harvard and became a trailblazing public intellectual. Along with important academic contributions to Black American history, Woodson is known as the father of Black History Month, a project that helped make Black history accessible to a non-academic audience.

Woodson’s relationship to newspapers anchors Hopkinson’s book. He was born to two formerly enslaved Black Americans and, although his father was illiterate, he was invested in informed citizenship. Woodson would read newspapers to his father whenever he could.

Woodson’s high school education was deferred so he could work, earning money for his family. While working the mines of West Virginia, Woodson met a Black Civil War Veteran named Oliver Jones. Like, Woodson’s father, Jones was illiterate, but committed to learning. He invited Black men to his home to discuss current events, since Woodson was literate, he became a valuable member of the community, reading newspapers and researching information the men wanted to learn more about.

Woodson worked in the mines for three years before slowly pursuing his education, finally earning a PhD at thirty-seven-years-old.

Hopkinson’s picture book is fairly text heavy and most appropriate for readers over seven-years-old. She provides useful information in her back matter, including resources to learn more about Carter G. Woodson and information about important Black figures in US History.

Carter Reads the Newspaper will make a strong edition to classroom libraries. Although, in many ways it reads like a biography, Woodson is clearly entrenched in communities, and inspired by the stories of the people in his life.

Samantha Thornhill’s A Card for my Father

A Card for My FatherA Card for my Father, written by Samantha Thornhill and illustrated by Morgan Clement, is brilliantly and beautifully told from the point-of-view of Flora Gardner, a little girl who has never met her father.

Flora has light brown skin and big expressive eyes underlined by a dash of freckles. Readers are introduced to her as she sits in a classroom, head resting on her hand as she contemplates how much she dislikes Father’s Day.

Flora has never met her father. The awkwardness of her classmates excitedly crafting Father’s Day cards makes her want “to melt into her chair.” She notices another student, the pale-rosy skinned loner Jonas Borkholder, slouching in his seat instead of participating in the card making frenzy. It’s later revealed that his father has passed away. Clement carefully communicates their pain in images that disrupt the lighthearted atmosphere in the classroom. The reader is forced to take account of those children who don’t have fathers to celebrate.

The text gracefully moves back-and-forth through time. but with purpose and control that makes it easy for young readers to follow. For instance, in an extended flashback it is revealed that Flora’s mother shuts down whenever Flora asks about her father. When her mom has had enough, she tells Flora her father is “a ghost with a heartbeat.” And, his absence haunts her.

Back in the text’s present, Flora sits in class listening to her peers tell stories about their fathers. She imagines herself in their tales, with a father like the ones they describe. But when she remembers the “faceless phantom” who is her father she feels “like an eel at the bottom of the sea.”

Flora tries to avoid going to her school’s Father’s Day picnic, but her mother isn’t having it. At school, instead of sharing a blanket with her father she shares it with her teacher. That is, until her mom surprises her by showing up at the picnic. Although Flora’s thrilled, she is still consumed with contacting her father and asks her mother if he might write her back if she sent a letter. Her mother finally relents and says: “There’s only one way to find out.” The phantom takes solid form through Clement’s illustration of a man wearing a shirt with the letters INMA… scrolled across the back.

I participated as a reviewer in Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 and during the group’s Twitter party so many people were asking for children’s books about incarcerated parents. A Card for my Father doesn’t just fill a gap on the bookshelf, it does it very well. This book is special.

Thornhill can’t stop herself from writing poetry, and Clement’s images play an integral role in the story. Her illustrations give Flora’s feelings a heavy presence on the page. Word and image pair perfectly giving the subject matter engaged the dignity it deserves and gifting the world with a brilliant book.

Penny Candy Books sent me a copy of the book to review (at my request).