Sunday, February 16, 2014

Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer was written by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue.  It was published in 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

I've recently realized how limited my knowledge of children's books was.  I had often read the same books to my class, only sometimes broadening my horizons to find something new.  I thought I'd had good books. I thought they were doing the job. When we sat in class and Freedom Summer had been brought up, and I saw the excitement in some of the others' voices, I knew I had to read it.  I knew I had to find out what the excitement was about, so that I could start to add more books to my knowledge of good books.  I was not deceived with this one.

Freedom Summer is an Ezra Jack Keats Award winner and a Coretta Scott King Award winner.  It is about two young boys, one white and one black, who were friends at a time that the world did not accept their friendship. The black boy, John Henry Waddell, would come over to his friend's house everyday with his mother, as his mother worked at their house.  They enjoyed spending time together -- helping to clean and get food prepared, swimming at the creek and going into town for a Popsicle -- but couldn't be friends in public.  John was not allowed to go to the swimming pool and couldn't go into the store to buy a Popsicle.  One day, it was announced that the laws were being changed.  From there on out, anybody, regardless of race, would be able to go anywhere public.  The boys were ecstatic about this, as they could not wait to swim in the pool together.  Sadly, when they got there, the pool was closed and was being filled in. Rather than allow blacks to swim in the pool, it was shut down.  This angered the boys, as they couldn't understand why their world was like this. 

Although I cannot even pretend to know how they must have felt, I found this to be a heartbreakingly true depiction of how it must have been for people before and during the Civil Rights Movement.  I believe this book would go further than any book I have read in showing students the struggles people from earlier generations had to go through, and the changes that have happened since then.  Most of them have heard stories about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but don't realize the every day, every person that was effected.  In the book, Wiles writes, "'Let's go back to Fiddler's Creek," I say. 'I didn't want to go to this old pool anyway." John Henry's eyes fill up with angry tears. 'I did,' he says. 'I wanted to swim in this pool. I want to do everything you can do."  This part of the book stirred many emotions within me.  It made me wonder why people had to act as though people were different back then.  It made me wonder if things have really changed all that much since then.  It made me wonder what I would have done if I had lived back then.  I made me angry that people could be so cruel, then and now.  I loved how the color of their skin was described as "the color of browned butter" and "the color of pale moths that dance around the porch at night." The children's race was never mentioned because to them, it wasn't important in their friendship.

The text was not the only part of the book the evoked emotion . The illustrations were beautiful and represented the feelings of the people and the times.  All of the illustrations were blurred.  I feel as though part of the reason was to blur the lines between white and black.  To put the importance on what they were doing and not necessarily who was doing it.   I also feel as though it was blurred to blur the lines between now and then.  To show that in reality, it is no longer like this. At least, not to this extent.  Although there is still some racism, people can go where they please and befriend who they please.  The illustrations went back and forth between full bleed and more of a framed picture. The framed pictures showed the heartache of the boys.  It shows them as they realize the pool is closed.  It shows them stuck at the pool, unable to move away from the dream that they'd had that morning.  It shows them together, at the end, ready to walk into the store together for the first time.  I feel as though these scenes were framed to pull the reader in -- to make them really feel for the kids and the people who struggled through those times in reality.

This would be a book I would use to open a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.  Students need to know about the leaders, but they also need to know about the everyday people who struggled through this and fought for their rights on a smaller scale.

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