Wednesday, January 11, 2023

For Lamb and We Are Your Children Too

Cline-Ransom, Lesa. For Lamb
January 10th 2023 by Holiday House
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lamb lives in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1940s with her mother and her older brother Simeon. Her mother struggles to make ends meet working as a seamstress doing piece work for a woman who owns a business, and occasionally has so much work to do that she makes Lamb stay home from school to help her. Both teens do well academically, and Simeon wants both of them to go to college. He's gotten a scholarship to Wilberforce College in Ohioand while their mother begrudgingly thinks about him going, she seems to put obstacles into Lamb's way. After Simeon breaks his glasses at the hotel where he is working (in an unfortunate incident), Lamb meets Marney Tremper, the eye doctor's daughter. The two are reading the same book, Buck's The Good Earth, which Lamb's teacher had loaned her. The two meet again by chance, and Marney wants to strike up a friendship. She loans Lamb the sequel, and the two meet occasionally. Marney has no clue about what Lamb's life is like as a Black teen, but at least apologizes when she makes insensitive remarks. Lamb knows that it is an ill-advised friendship, but the two connect on many levels. They both feel that they are too heavy and don't connect with their peers, and Marney's mother has passed away; Lamb's father left years ago. Lamb finds out from her uncle that her father is still in town, and after talking to Marney, reconnects with him. Things seem to be going well in Lamb's life despite the community turmoil around her, but then issues come too close to home, and Lamb has to deal with difficult issues. 
Strengths: The writing in this was phenomenal. It felt a lot like the teen literature written mid century (I've read an alarming amount of it, so I know!), because of the strong grasp of the social mores of the time and the use of language from the period, but also felt fresh in its pacing and modern examination of serious issues. The length and introspection make this lean a little more toward the young adult spectrum, and the content places it squarely there. High schools who are stuck in time and still read To Kill a Mockingbird would be well advised to pick this up instead if they want students to have an excellent picture of how people's actions, even innocent ones, can put them on paths they would have liked to avoid. Simeon's desire to leave town and become a doctor deserves a book on its own, and his experiences working at the hotel to earn money are harrowing. Lamb's mother has a sad story of her own, and its heart wrenching to think about how few options there were for her during this time period. Readers who have read Finding Langston books will see glimpses of issues that are brought up briefly in that middle grade series explored in their entirety in this difficult but compelling exploration of Lamb's life. 
Weaknesses: Books written from multiple perspectives are always harder for me to understand, although many people are fine with them. The fact that some of the chapters took place when Lamb's mother was younger made this even harder for me to follow, but others will have no problem. 
What I Really Think: I just wanted to sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade and bask in Lamb's world for a while. It wasn't perfect, and there were lots of challenges, but there was something about her hope for the future and her realistic way of facing it that I enjoyed in the same way I enjoyed books like du Jardin's Dinny Gordon books. I would definitely buy this for a high school library.

Pearson, P. O'Connell. We Are Your Children Too: Black Students, White Supremacists, and the Battle for America's Schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia
January 10, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Prince Edward County, Virginia schools were very troubled when Barbara Johns was a student at R.R. Moton High School. Blacks and whites attended separate and FAR from equal schools. Tired of the inequities, Johns organized a student strike in 1951 that garnered a lot of community support and lead to a landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision that decided that segregation in schools was unconstitutional. Sadly, this was just the beginning. The county decided not to fund schools, and the white citizens of Farmville and the surrounding area set up a private academy that would not admit Black students. This meant that there was no free education for Black students, or for poor white students. Some families sent children to live with relatives, drove to attend nearby schools, and even bought houses in other towns so that children could attend school. Still, many children were not able to attend. Black citizens organized and helped students find placements, but also tried to get national support and funding for the Prince Edward County Free Schools. For one year, they managed to hire good teachers and educate children who had been out of school for four years or more in an inclusive and supportive environment. After the year was up, it was hard to keep the same quality, and the struggle continued. It took years before the schools in the area were meeting the educational needs of the entire community. People didn't discuss these difficult years, and in 1995, the former Moton school was going to be torn down. The community rallied to have it preserved as a Civil Rights Museum, and started talking about the injustices of the past. 

I've read Kanefield's 2014 The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement and have a copy in my library, but had forgotten how long the children of Farmville were without a school. I'd also forgotten that many of the children involved were only 5-15 years older than I am! It seems unreal that such different treatment of people existed, and this is a great reminder about how things were a very short time ago. Pearson does a great job of including recent events like the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement to show that things have not changed as much as they need to. 

There are a lot more details about the students' strike and the ensuing legal battles and community struggles that are extremely valuable for middle grade students AND teachers to read! We've seen a lot of problems with students in the wake of the pandemic, so I can't imagine the struggles faced after such a long time out of school. Any child who thinks that going to school is a punishment could learn a LOT by reading this book. 

Pearson gives a lot of good background information about the treatment of Blacks in Virginia starting from 1607, and this certainly helps to understand the feelings at the time. Young readers won't fully understand that schools in the first half of the 20th century weren't quite the way they are now even in white communities-- while it is horrible that Black students didn't have proper transportation, there were a lot of students who didn't; I had relatives who had to live with families in town and work as "mother's helpers" for their room and board in order to attend high school because that was the only way they could get to school. The elementary school near my first home in Michigan didn't have a cafeteria; all of the students were expected to walk home for lunch! It was also fairly common to have classes of 40 students before the 1980s. Certainly, southern Black students had to deal with a horrible and unfair system on top of these questionable but widespread practices. 

This is a must purchase for middle schools and high schools who want a great resource for informational reading as well as research into educational practices, Civil Rights, and social activism. 

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