Today marks the first day of February. It begins African American History Month. As stated at the official government site:
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
A little more than one year after President John F. Kennedy submitted a civil rights bill to Congress, it, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, was passed into law on July 2, 1964. For nearly fifteen years African Americans and their supporters worked tirelessly against horrendous odds to champion the cause of civil rights. The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, January 17, 2017) written by Cynthia Levinson with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton tells a remarkable true story. No one will leave reading this book without being inspired.
Whenever Mike flew into town, Audrey and her momma coo-ooked! Barbecued ribs, stewed greens, sweet potato souffle, and Audrey's favorite---hot rolls baptized in butter.
Mike was Audrey's family's nickname for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other ministers which visited them were given nicknames too. As the discussion around the dinner table turned to segregation laws, it was nearly impossible for young Audrey not to add her voice to the conversation. She wanted to have the same opportunities as white children her age. She did not enjoy paying her bus fare at the front of the bus and entering in a back door to take her seat.
On Monday evenings, Audrey and her family and other community members gathered in their church lead by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth to sing, worship and listen to testimonials of segregation. All this talk made Audrey uneasy. She wanted to do something to right these wrongs.
Time after time Mike would come to preach about nonviolent protest.
"Fill the jails!" Mike exclaimed.
If the jails were full, police would have to stop arresting people. When Mike urged people to join in, no adults came forward. One night, Jim Bevel, another minister, suggested children protest and fill the jails. This was the moment for which Audrey had been waiting. When her mother granted permission, Audrey walked to the front of the church with pride.
Two days later Audrey joined a group of other children at a church. They walked out the door singing and carrying signs. Shortly thereafter they were placed by policemen into a paddy wagon. They were sentenced to one week in juvenile hall. It was not what Audrey expected. Their treatment was severe; a single old mattress with one sheet; foul tasting grits, and questions by white men. (Audrey had never talked to a white man before this time.) It was lonely sitting in your cell.
After five days, Mike's plan seemed to be working. The juvenile hall was filling up with children. Can you smell that? It's hot rolls, baptized in butter. Can you feel that? It's a surge of pride for this young girl and her fellow protesters.
What readers will find most enjoyable about this narrative, in addition to the timely and uplifting information, is the voice Cynthia Levinson uses to tell the story. It's easy, conversational, and realistic. Many times it's like reading poetry with the rhythm her words generate. She conveys the heart of a young girl beautifully by adding her thoughts to the text. She also includes remarks by Audrey's mother, actual dialogue by Audrey and others, and quotes by protest leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is a sample passage.
I want to eat my ice cream inside Newberry's!
I want to sit downstairs at the Alabama!
I don't want hand-me down schoolbooks!
But stools at the counter, plush movie theater seats, books so fresh they'd crackle when you open them---those were for white children.
Hush! hissed Momma. Nine-year-old children should not speak in front of company, especially ministers like Mike, Fred, and Jim, who were bringing dreams of justice.
There is something about the color palette used on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case which calls out to you as soon as you look at it. The rosy background reminds me of a sunrise, a new day which is fitting for this story. It blends and contrasts with Audrey's clothing worn during her protest and stay in the juvenile hall. It's important she is carrying the American flag. Can you see the tiny detail at the top? Incorporating the secondary title on one of the signs is a superb design choice along with the showing of justice above it.
To the left on the back is a line of grass and flowers. Among these are three protest signs. This is on a canvas of white. A lighter orange, almost a peach, covers the opening and closing endpapers. The image from the back appears again on the title page.
Rendered in digital collage the illustrations in a bright full color palette span double and single pages. To show more than one incident or the passage of time Vanessa Brantley Newton groups several smaller images together on a single page. I believe readers will really appreciate the way she places elements on her pages, altering the perspective such as showing the people in the pews in church, full view, but only showing the bottom half of Audrey as she walks toward the front. One particularly heartbreaking scene covers two pages. It is the inside of the cell. The cot with the single mattress and sheet spans page edge to page edge. Audrey is lying on her side, knees curled, with her back to us.
One of my favorite illustrations is the first one when Audrey and her momma are cooking in their kitchen. Behind Audrey her momma is holding a steaming dish with anothers sitting on the counter. A chocolate cake is covered by a glass dome. A pot boils on the stove. Audrey is, of course, taking the hot rolls off the baking sheet. They are both smiling at the thought of the meal and their company.
This title, The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist written by Cynthia Levinson with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, should be on every professional and personal shelf. This is the kind of nonfiction picture book which will connect with readers supplying the truth of the struggle to those of all ages. Once again, without this book, how many of us would have known this story? At the close of the book is an author's note, a time line, a recipe for Hot Rolls Baptized In Butter and a list of sources. I extend sincere thanks to Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley Newton.
To learn more about both Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley Newton and their other work, please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. At the publisher's website you can view interior images. The cover was revealed by Cynthia Levinson and Vanessa Brantley Newton at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Children's literature advocate and educator Colby Sharp gives us one of his Ten Minute Reviews at sharpread. Author Audrey Vernick chats with Cynthia Levinson on her blog. Author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman gives us an inside look at Cynthia Levinson's work space. Andrea Skyberg highlights illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton. At All The Wonders teacher librarian and author Carter Higgins includes this title in a list Thirty-Five Picture Books For Young Activists. There are several blog posts at Emu's Debuts about this title, here, here and here.
Be sure to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles chosen by participating bloggers in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.
UPDATE: Author Cynthia Levinson is interviewed at Cynsations a blog hosted by author Cynthia Leitich Smith on February 21, 2017.