Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: We have a job

    Review: We've got a job: the 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson

    Published by: Peachtree Publishers. 2012


    Reading level: Grades 5+

Every year I travel to DC with a student group. We go with a program called 'The Asper Human Rights and the Holocaust' program and spend four days in DC. The Holocaust Museum is a full day adventure; the rest of the time is spent going through DC. Each year I stand on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr gave his 'I have a dream' speech, on the stairs of the Lincoln memorial. Last year for the first time I went to the MLK memorial, a beautiful bas-relief positioned between the Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln memorials (and just a quick walk along the tidal basin from the FDR memorial). I know some of the history behind his importance - the general history which included his fights for equal rights, his sacrifices and his assassination, but I did not know a lot of the details, especially about those who fought along with him. Yes, the sit ins, the walks, the bus strikes, the restaurant sitins are all part of my knowledge, but who and where and how - and what happened to them has been less clear in my learning.

'We have a job - the 1963 Birmingham Children's March' by Cynthia Levinson helped fill in some of those gaps. Levinson follows the story of four different freedom fighters, all of whom were children during 1963. They entered the civil rights movements in different ways - by accident, by choice, reluctantly, passionately - but they all worked hard and risked much to fight for equal rights. When the adults were hesitant to fight the racist culture of Birmingham because their jobs and lives were on the line, the children of the city stood up and answered Dr. Martin Luther King's cry to 'Fill the Jails'. The children marched and filled the jails and then some, causing their fight to receive national attention and helped bring about the repeal of segregation laws. Their actions inspired thousands of other young people to demand their rights and fight for their freedoms around the world.

Levinson puts a focus on four children: Audrey, a 9 year old child of activists, Washington Booker III, a high spirited child child of the projects who just wanted to be allowed to eat a Banana Split at the local Department store, James W. Stewart, a teen child of professionals who had to deal with racism from both sides, given his light skin tone and Arnetta Streeter, who with her light skin could have 'passed' but chose not to, feeling colour should not matter. Each of this children were part of the actions taken by children in Birmingham. Whether they were like Audrey who was inspired by her parents and could articulate at her young age that she needed to go to Jail or like Arnetta who kept trying to get arrested and found she kept getting sent home, or like Washington who got involved almost by accident. Throughout there are pictures of many of the main people and incidents involved, further illustrating some of the dangers in which people found themselves. In addition, there are sections pulled from the main text with song lyrics, legal rulings and other information which informs the reader on some of the text needed to fully understand the book and the times in which the book is set.

Beautifully designed, this telling of a major event in Modern American history is well told and illustrated. I appreciated the use of black, white and grey throughout the entire book. At times, when the focus was on people other than our four main profiles, I wondered what the use of those profiles was. However, Levinson continued to return to our fearless four, and it was nice, after reading of all the confusion to then return to four people and ground your thinking. In reflection, it was also nice to be able to look back on this momentous story and think of a few of the ordinary people who were involved. A personal connection to a story that was larger than one person. As with many non-fiction novels, I wish the text pull outs were at breaking points in the text as I found leaving the narrative to read the pull out before I turned the page distracting - I didn't want to leave the narrative but didn't want to miss the additional info. I am looking forward to putting this book into my collection and know of several research based units in which it will come of use!

I rate this book: 4/5
Goodreads page.