Monday, April 18, 2022

MMGM- The Lucky Ones and Susan La Flesche Picote: Pioneering Doctor

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Jackson, Linda Williams. The Lucky Ones
April 12th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided Young Adult Books Central

Life in rural Mississippi in 1967 is not easy for Ellis Earl Brown and his large family. His mother and three older brothers go out to look for work each day, since the father died in a tractor accident, but often his mother ends up helping another woman clean houses, which doesn't pay very much. His oldest sister, Jeannette, is only fourteen, but has to stay home and take care of the young children, who include a cousin whose mother has died, Oscar, who is a year older than Ellis Earl but doesn't go to school because he is constantly ill, and Carrie Ann, who does go to school. His oldest brother, Junior, is 22 and has four children of his own, with another on the way, so these children are staying in the three room house while their mother is in the hospital. There's barely enough food to go around, but Ellis Earl sometimes gets "leftovers" from his teacher, Mr. Foster, who also drives several of his students home in his station wagon so they don't have to walk long distances. The Brown's house is located in an area that often floods, so when there is a lot of rain, Ellis Earl can't get to school. He's a good student, and frequently brings home books to share with his sibings, since there isn't much for them to do at home. When Mr. Foster asks if Ellis Earl would like to read a verse at church, he is a bit reluctant. The family is Baptist, but doesn't go to church because they don't have anything to wear. Mr. Foster gets a new outfit for Ellis Earl, and his mother grudgingly allows him to attend the American Methodist Episcopal church. There's breakfast, and the speech goes over well, and Mr. Foster offers another opportunity-- Ellis Earl and four other students are invited to travel to the airport to help greet Robert Kenney and Marian Wright, who are undertaking a tour of the South to document the poverty in the area and to try to get information to support the Fair Housing Act and the spread of the food stamp program. The students have been reading news articles about Civil Rights and trying to understand what improvements could be made to their community, and Ellis Earl's best friend, Phillip, and another good student, Cora, are excited for the possibility. While racial tensions are high in the South, and the group is mistreated at a diner, the airport visit goes well. Later, the Browns are surprised when Kennedy and his entourage show up at their house to ask about their experiences. Mr. Foster further helps the family, by helping their small family singing group, the Brown Blues, get exposure, and connecting them with other members of the church who are able to help with housing.

While many families are struggling with many insecurities, especially now, they are not quite as dire as the Depression-era feel of the Brown's poverty. I think it's good for young readers to understand that it is possible to survive with just one spare pair of underwear, and to see the lengths to which Ellis Earl is willing to sacrifice his own comfort to provide for his family. The importance of reading and education is made very clear, and the inclusion of Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Dahl, 1964) is an interesting one. I also appreciated Jackson's note about the problems with the Oompa-Loompas in the early edition were treated!

Mr. Foster is a fantastic character who clearly cares about his students and tries his best to take care of their basic needs so that their learning is uninterrupted.The strong sense of community is made clear in the support that is offered at school and through the church. I was a bit surprised that the Browns weren't already involved in the church, but this is nicely explained.

Including real life Civil Rights figures might lead students to investigate the time period more thoroughly. Jackson is from a similar area in Mississippi and her personal experiences bring a fascinating, rich depth to Ellis Earl's life. I especially enjoyed the fact that while things were brutally hard for the Brown family, there was a strong sense of hope that life would improve.

The depiction of children in poverty in fiction has deep roots, from Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Hega, 1901) to The Boxcar Chidlren (Warner, 1924) to The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Sidney, 1936), but it's somewhat unusual to see a contemporary book capture the details so well. Modern books also tend to take a grim view of events, but I loved Ellis Earl's resiliency and perseverance.This was a great historical fiction book that details a specific place and time in a vivid and interesting way. It is extremely interesting to see this depiction in contrast to the reboot of The Wonder Years, which is set in Alabama in 1968 but chronicles a Black, middle class family. Read this along with Wilkinson's 1974 Ludell as well as Jackson's Midnight Without a Moon (2016).  

Bailey, Diane. Susan La Flesche Picote: Pioneering Doctor 
Published May 4th 2021 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in 1865 in the Great Plains, Susan La Flesche was raised in the Omaha tribe. Her father was a leader, and while proud of his Native American heritgae, believed that his people would be more successful if they learned to adapt to white ways, which didn't always endear him to his people. Susan was sent to a Presbyterian Mission school from the age of three, and continued with her education. She and her sisters were encouraged to speak English. She was eventually sent to school in New Jersey, and after helping an ethnologist who became ill while staying with the Omaha, she ws sent to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural School in Cheseapeake, Virginia. This was originally meant for African Americans, but started to include other peoples as well. Encourage by the doctor at that school, a woman, she applied to the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania and was able to attend after getting scholarships. It was not easy, but she graduated in 1889 as the first Native American to get a medical degree. She took jobs back home, but the very long hours, due to lack of other practicing doctors, negatively impacted her health. She tried to cut back, but was driven to help people in need. She eventually married and had two sons, but went in and out of medicine, always focusing on getting help to people in need. Her continued ill health led to her early death in 1915. 

This short (128 pages) biography is very complete, and has a glossary, notes, and bibliography at the end. There are no photographs, although with the internet, this has become increasingly less important. This would be a great resource for a biography assignment, and the paperback format (and the fact that this series is available at WalMart!) lends itself to inclusion in classroom libraries. 

La Flesche Picotte's story is a difficult one, because while she helped out the Native American community, she went through traditional white channels to become educated. Her father  was a controversial figure, but this should not stop us from learning about her acchievements. Few women were able to get medical degrees in the late 1800s, and the fact that she managed to do this is rather remarkable. While it would have been good to see a Native American author write this, it is very delicately done and due diligence was certainly taken to show the difficulties and prejudices faced by Native Americans during this time period. 

Discovering History's Heroes has a good range of biographies of somewhat lesser known historical figures, including Michael Collins, Dennis Brutus, and Ida B. Wells, and is a great addition to biographies like the Who Was series and the various books NatGeo Kids .

 Ms. Yingling


  1. Two great shares today! I really enjoyed your review of the Lucky Ones. I was a teenager in 1967 and aware of the hardships of Black people because of my visits to cousins in North Carolina. So I like to read anything I can about that period of time. Thanks for such a thorough review.
    And I enjoyed Susan La Flesche Picotte's story. I have read more First Nation's stories than about Native American stories. A woman earning a degree in medicine was unheard of in the late 19th century. Her story is a must read for me!

  2. Both books sound good, it's always really interesting reading about pioneering women like Susan La Flesche, it can't have been easy for her. Thanks for the review!

  3. Two interesting books. I appreciated what you wrote about books focusing on resiliency and not taking a grim view of poverty. Thanks for sharing detailed thoughts on both books.

  4. Thanks for the Review of The Lucky Ones. I added it to my TBR pile.

  5. Two books that look really good. I'm particularly drawn to The Lucky Ones. I like characters the persevere!

  6. Anonymous9:01 PM EDT

    Thanks for featuring THE LUCKY ONES on MMGM. As a boy I spent my summers in Mississippi and witnessed first hand the poverty and unfairness in the way black workers were treated. They had names like Foots and yes, Ellis. Can't wait to read this one!

  7. These both look great. The Lucky Ones keeps popping up on my radar. I think I'll have to get a copy. Thanks for your reviews.