Let Every Voice Be Heard
Yesterday, I used Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever as one illustration for why we need more diverse children’s titles. Today I’m going to tell you about another book. But first, I want to talk a little more about why books can speak so powerfully to us.
Reading a book is like having a heart-to-heart conversation with the text. There is no one else in the room with you to influence your opinion or tell you how to think, or how to feel. Literature can be a safe, comfortable way to experience something, explore an issue, or work through difficult emotions. While you might not be at ease talking about a specific subject, you can begin by reading about it. And if a child reads a book that his/her parents have also read, the family may be able to have meaningful conversation afterward.
Let me get back to tonight’s programming. I want to talk about voices. All kids should feel represented somewhere in the books they read. Every boy or girl should be able to see him or herself, to know that his or her voice matters.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Last year, when I picked this up during Black History Month, I had no idea how much The Lions of Little Rock would grab hold of my heart. It is a beautifully written, nuanced tale of an unlikely friendship between two girls, one white and one black, in 1958. Many may know of the “Little Rock Nine” who, with guns pointed at them, bravely entered Central High in 1957 during integration. But most are unaware of the “lost year” that followed when the governor of Arkansas defied the Supreme Court’s ruling by shutting down the city’s high schools.
Set against this tumultuous racial and political backdrop, thirteen year-old Marlee meets Liz who, it turns out, has been passing for white in order to go to Marlee’s school. Together the two bond. Though both are bright, Marlee is painfully shy, and Liz helps her find her voice. Marley learns that sometimes words have little power unless they are spoken. She also discovers that it takes courage and conscience to speak out for what is right.
Today, over a half-century on from 1958, race is still a prickly and sensitive topic. It may be both easier and more effectual, because of time and distance, to look at a piece of historical fiction to generate a dialogue. These likeable characters and their friendship will have kids hoping in earnest that the crazy, dangerous world around Marlee and Liz will not tear the girls apart. And hopefully, they’ll see that they have a responsibility to be a voice of justice, speaking out against bullying or hatred wherever they may encounter it.
— Dawn Teresa
Please join me again tomorrow as my celebration of Children’s Book Week continues!