Two Noteworthy Nonfiction Titles in Celebration of African-American History Month

Last week, I recommended three stunning novels that I hope you’ve leafed through or picked up for your middle-grader(s). This week, here are two complementary nonfiction titles that are just as stellar. Without further ado . . . 

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson. During the first week of May, 1963, a previously unthinkable event occurred in Birmingham, Alabama. Approximately 4,000 African-American elementary, middle school, and high school students voluntarily went to jail after marching in the streets to protest segregation and racial inequality. In doing so, they accomplished what the adults in the community had been afraid, unwilling, or unable to do—they brought national attention to the killings, bombings, and other atrocities going on in one of the most violent cities in America at the time. In the words of one of the protestors: “I began to listen to the things that the men and women were saying about discrimination and having to make a change. I felt a sense of resolve. I had enough of the segregation, discrimination, hatred, violence, white signs, colored signs, all of it! Now was the time to confront it all.”

Focusing on the personal stories of four of the original participants whom she interviewed personally when conducting research for the book—Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter—Levinson enables modern readers to witness and understand the volatile circumstances surrounding the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March through the eyes and ears of kids their age. While middle-schoolers will be familiar with many reference points Levinson uses such as Plessy v. Ferguson, Rosa Parks’s bus protest, and the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, other lesser-known flash points are also described, such as the Selective Buying Campaign, the ACMHR“Project C” and the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the KKK. Levinson also takes great care in pointing out not only the opposing side’s point of view, but also the infighting and failures of the civil rights movement in addition to its successes, teaching kids the idea that within any push for change, there is always adversity—and nothing ever happens overnight.

Additional reference materials include an “afterworld” with details of the four protesters’ lives from 1963 onward, a moving author’s note, a helpful timeline (1944-1964), a map of Birmingham’s Downtown District in the 1950s and 1960s, source notes and a glossary of abbreviations used, a bibliography, a list of photo credits, and an index. Additional referential sidebars (an explanation of key segregation ordinances, a list of the 10 commandments of nonviolence, quotes from fellow Children’s March protesters as well as those from “White” Birmingham, newspaper headlines at the time, etc.) are sprinkled strategically throughout the book along with plenty of archival black-and-white photographs from the time period.

In my humble opinion, this treasure trove of information should be required reading in the classroom. Especially in our present time when many adults are disillusioned for various reasons which I won’t get into on this positive-leaning blog about books, it’s not a bad message to send to kids—that they actually can make a difference despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

To read the rest of the post, please visit  Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog

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