Every once in a while I like to include a recommendation for middle grade books. I haven’t featured one in a while, so when the publisher offered to send me a copy of THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE for review, I welcomed the opportunity. This is an important book for young readers anytime. May we all be inspired by the courage of young Jo Ann Allen as we begin 2019, dedicated to a promise of change that will bring people together.
I just finished Jon Meacham’s book, The Soul of America, the Battle for Our Better Angels. In it there is a wonderful passage where he shares what he sees as the importance of knowing history. It’s not about vilifying or glorifying people or events of the past, but rather that we look at our lives today and ask ourselves what we are doing now and how our actions will be judged by those who follow us.
Title: This Promise of Change, One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality
Written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, January 8, 2019
Ages 10 and up
Themes/topics: segregation, social change, justice, US history
Summary from worldcat.org:
“In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students–found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process”
History has a lot to offer. And when books allow us to empathize and connect with people of the past, we have an opportunity to understand times and events on a human level. This is one of those books that touches the heart and will resonate as kids view the world today.
A first-person telling from one who experienced the events is priceless. Debbie Levy’s free verse doesn’t crowd the page with description, but rather leaves plenty of white space for thought and reflection on the part of the reader. I think this format requires greater investment by the reader and results in a stronger personal connection. The combining of Jo Ann Allen Boyce’s story and Levy’s writing is powerful.
Especially interesting are the primary archival materials that are woven into the narrative: statistics, signs, bits from the Tennessee Constitution, newspaper headlines and article excerpts, editorials, picket signs and so much more. We can see what these students were immersed in day after day, the words they read and heard, what it’s like to BE the news. Backmatter includes photos, a civil rights timeline, and information about the authors.
This Promise of Change offers a multitude of opportunities for the classroom. Don’t pass this one by!