Radical Reading for February

~posted by Diane

I’ve always been proud to have been a college student in the 1970’s when the campuses were hotbeds of protest, hippies, and monumental societal change. Those turbulent and triumphant times written about in recent children’s books allow us to relive those moments with awe. Sometimes children’s books are really best appreciated by adults, especially those of us who lived through it all. They also stand as tributes to the sacrifices and heroism deservedly celebrated during Black History Month. So for adults and children alike, here are some suggestions:

An amazing novel by Deborah Wiles called Revolution is a documentary in novel form.  The storyline is narrated by a young girl experiencing massive change during Freedom Summer 1964 in Mississippi but the power of the novel lies in the photos, the speeches, the songs—all the archival paper trail of the historic time of 1964, which is interspersed throughout.

Another award-winning example is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which takes place in San Francisco’s hippie culture in 1968. It tells the story of two daughters of an activist poet who must make heads or tails of their mother’s passions by attending a Black Panther’s summer camp.

A novel set in the late 1960s that simply charms the socks off the reader is The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. It does so by putting forward the one of the best protagonists ever in Holling Hoodhood. The backdrop of the Vietnam War, the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy are indelibly drawn as we follow the life and often hilarious encounters of a boy growing up in small town America during tumultuous times.

For anyone who loves the power of words, African American Poetry, edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount, recounts 200 years of Black History through the poetry of celebrated authors. Especially relevant in the yearning for freedom is the poem “Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden that starts out: “When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful and terrible thing, needful to man as air, usable as earth; when it belongs to all…”

The 60s and 70s unlocked an unquenchable yearning for justice in me. As the search for freedom unfolds across the world, when the power of protest and of the pen again becomes awesome acts of defiance as they did in the 60s, perhaps we will look back through the novels of this time for inspiration. And, we will remember all over again…

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