In celebration and honor of this weekend’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s take a look at some of the recent and upcoming books about the Civil Rights Movement!
While they are certainly not the most recent books on the list, John Lewis’ March: Book One, Two, and Three are most immediately on my mind—partly because Lewis is the last living speaker from the March on Washington, and partly because he’s been in the news so much this weekend. March is a chronicle of his life and his work in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—in comic format, thanks to the collaborative work of co-author Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. If you’re more inclined to pick books up when they have shiny stickers, you’re in luck! March: Book Three won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last year.
I haven’t traditionally covered much in the way of picture books in this space, but I’ve been reading so many more of them lately that that might well change. After reading Carole Boston Weatherford’s gorgeous Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement last year, I went back and read a whole bunch of her backlist and loved them all. LOVED. So I’m delighted to see that she’s got a new one out later this month: a picture book biography of Lena Horne called The Legendary Miss Lena Horne.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson—out this week!—is a picture book that covers the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March through the eyes of one of its youngest participants. If you’re looking for something geared a bit older, Levinson also wrote 2012’s We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March.
Linda Williams Jackson’s Midnight Without a Moon is out this month as well. It’s about thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter, her difficulties at home (based on the description in the Kirkus review, that sounds like a vast understatement), and the disappearance of Emmett Till during the summer of 1955 in Mississippi. Kirkus was iffy on some of the characterization, but praised the prose as ‘dulcet’ and ‘poetic.’ And look at that lovely cover! *heart eyes* I’m here for it.
If you shop for fantastic covers, here’s another great example: Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight. Depression-era North Carolina, the KKK, and a young girl “filled with hope, dreams and ambition in a time when such traits were dangerous for a girl of color.” This book got stars everywhere, though I didn’t see a lot of chatter about it—maybe we can change that?
Susan Vaught’s Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry is set in the present day, though it’s largely about the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, as experienced by the protagonist’s grandmother (who is black) and her grandmother’s estranged friend (who is white). It’s about memory, about family, about how the repercussions of slavery and segregation are still felt. It also addresses one of the big conversations that’s been happening in kidlit circles for years now—whether or not authors are entitled to tell stories that aren’t their own. I’m interested to see how Vaught—who I believe is white?—handles it.
And lastly, we come to one of the 2017 books that I’m most looking forward to: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in a largely black neighborhood and attends a largely white school. She’s a witness when Khalil, her childhood best friend, is shot and killed by a white police officer. And then, when his death becomes national news—in part because Khalil was unarmed—she’s a witness to the spin and the debates and the victim-blaming and the rest of the pattern that we’ve seen play out again and again. It’s about friendship, about the media, about politics, and it’s about systemic racism in the present day. While many readers find comfort in books that focus on obstacles that we’ve supposedly overcome, it’s so, so important to be honest about how far we still have to go—it looks to me like The Hate U Give does exactly that.
As always, recommendations are extremely welcome—my TBR list is always out-of-control, but I like it like that.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.