Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

40430178Lynn: In December it was my great pleasure to meet Paula Young Shelton during her book tour through Ann Arbor. Mrs. Shelton, a first grade teacher in Washington, D.C., talked about the Civil Rights History unit she taught each year and the difficulty in finding materials appropriate for her young students. Every year she told stories about her childhood experiences and the idea of writing these down grew into reality. The daughter of Andrew Young, Mrs. Shelton grew up in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and there is no one better suited to write about this complex issue for children. Child of the Civil Rights Movement (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009) is told from her perspective as a 4-year-old when her family moved from New York to Atlanta where her father joined Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and the other brave souls fighting for equal rights. Using evocative free verse, Mrs. Shelton describes Jim Crow laws and her first -hand experience of discrimination with well chosen examples and simple language that make this difficult subject understandable. Child-centered examples include the meetings around the dining room table “where the macaroni and cheese seemed to come from a magic pot,” and Paula’s own first sit-down protest when a restaurant refused service to her family. She movingly describes the “family of the civil rights movement”

Close because our mothers worried together.

Close because we all struggled together.

Close because we were brought together

For a common goal,

for a common good.

Warmly illustrated by Raul Colon, the book ends with the stirring story of the March to Montgomery with the young Paula being carried by her mother and the passing of the Voting Rights Act. Our focus group was fascinated by this book, astonished at the injustice and very indignant. Throw out your textbooks and buy this wonderful book for every first and second grade classroom!

Cindy: Raul Colon’s distinctive illustrations are perfect for this memoir. The layered watercolor, colored pencil, and lead pencil drawings, sometimes in sepia tones but always muted, add a softness to this remembered history, suitable for its young audience. The painting of “Uncle Martin” Luther King, Jr. in his bathing suit and tee-shirt ready to help Paula into an Atlanta coloreds-only YMCA pool is a view of him I’d not seen before. Young readers might not make the connection between “Uncle Martin” and “Aunt Coretta” and “Uncle Ralph” to their famous namesakes but a short biography of each of the Civil Rights Leaders mentioned is appended and will give adults concise information to share with questioning children.


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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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