Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018 Sibert Medal

On February 12, 2018 the American Library Association Youth Media Awards aired live from approximately 10:00 am to 11:00 am EST.  It doesn't get any better than watching this event with a friend and colleague and two classes of fifth grade students.  There were congratulatory yells, clapping, laughing, jumping up and down and verbal comments shared among those watching in that classroom.

When the 2018 Sibert Medal title was announced, one voice, mine, was a bit louder than the others.  Twice Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 (Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, October 24, 2017) written by Larry Dane Brimner was renewed from our public library.  I had it on the top of the stack next to my computer.  For some reason, I knew this book was special.  I was not ready to return it to the library.  Now I know why.  I read it cover to cover in a single sitting the next day.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a light-complexioned black man, deliberately sat in the white-only car of the East Louisiana Railroad.  He identified himself as Negro and was arrested for violating Louisiana's Separate Car Act, passed in 1890.

In describing this case, Morgan v Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Boynton v. Virginia (1960) and The Sit-Ins, we understand the historical significance of the decisions and civil rights actions leading to the Freedom Ride 1961.  From Tuesday, May 4, 1961 to Monday, May 15, 1961 we are privy to the scenes, the people and the events each day.  On May 4, 1961 two buses wait to leave Washington, D. C.; a Greyhound bus and a Continental Trailways bus will carry passengers initially numbering thirteen from state to state arriving in New Orleans by May 17, 1961.  This is to highlight the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

We are given the names, ages, race and occupations of the original thirteen riders.  These men and women ages sixty-one to eighteen volunteered for this ride; committed to non-violence regardless of how they were treated.  They rode to test the laws of this nation; the right to ride where they chose, the right to use the restroom of their choice and the right to eat where they wished.

On May 8, 1961 Joe Perkins a twenty-seven-year-old black man, a student at the University of Michigan, sat in a whites-only chair for a shoe shine.  He was arrested for trespassing.  His bail was fifty dollars.  The judge, Howard B. Arbuckle, dismissed all charges.  He followed the law not Jim Crow.

On May 9, 1961, John Lewis and Al Bigelow were beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  The next day John Lewis left the Freedom Ride for a job interview promising to rejoin the group on May 15, 1961.  Tensions escalated in Winnsboro, South Carolina.  There were more arrests and a nighttime rescue.  On May 12, 1961 another member left and three more joined the group.  Now they were headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

The leader of the group James Farmer went home from Atlanta to Washington, D. C. suddenly on May 13, 1961 due to the death of his father.  As first the Greyhound bus entered the city of Anniston, Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan was highly charged with deadly intentions.  The local police did not arrest the Klansmen.  Two tires on the bus are slashed.  What followed as the bus traveled from Anniston toward Birmingham was horrific.  Equally atrocious were the incidents happening on the Continental Trailways bus.  Klansmen were passengers.  Klansmen awaited the arrival in Birmingham. 

The Freedom Riders wanted to continue but there were no buses to take them to New Orleans.  Even a decision to fly was filled with problems.  Intervention from the administration in Washington, D. C. helped the plane to take off and land in New Orleans.  Twelve days of incredible courage, determination in the face of grave bodily harm and the will to do so without violence on their part kept these Freedom Riders going toward their goal. 

We continue reading about the civil rights movement after the Freedom Ride 1961 and Birmingham.  Each of the thirteen riders is named again.  We learn how their lives continue.  They will be remembered.

Whether you read this once or multiple times, each time you are completely captivated by the bravery of these men and women.  Larry Dane Brimner writes masterfully beginning with background information and creating a feeling of great unease which grows day by day.  As the buses pass from state to state Larry Dane Brimner includes details which personally invest us in this journey. 

We continually refer to the page introducing us to the members of the Freedom Ride 1961.  Each time something happens to one of them our attachment grows.  Larry Dane Brimner is so skillful it's as if we are watching this on film.  In addition to the narrative, realistic photographs are included with every page turn.  They are all captioned; some of them are lengthier than others.  Here is one of the captions.  It is followed by a narrative passage.

Although Petersburg, Virginia, desegregated its bus terminals in 1960, this was the exception rather than the rule in the South.  When Freedom Ride 1961 ended in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 15, new waves of riders picked up the cause.  Here, unidentified Freedom Riders successfully integrate the bus terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 28, 1961.

A few nearby residents offer to help the victims.  A twelve-year-old local white girl, Janie Miller, hauls five-gallon buckets of water to the riders and other passengers.  Most of the local residents, however, either look on in silence or urge the Klansmen to continue the assault, until ambulances arrive to carry the injured to the hospital.  At first, ambulance drivers refuse to carry any of the injured black riders.  Only when the white Freedom Riders begin to crawl out of the ambulances, unwilling to leave their black friends behind, do the drivers relent and agree to carry all the victims.

You will be stunned reading Twelve Days In May: Freedom Ride 1961 written by Larry Dane Brimner.  Once you read this you'll want everyone to read this title.  It is a very important book.  It is through reading history we have the ability to be better than we are.  At the conclusion of the book is a bibliography of sources consulted by the author, video, websites, and for younger readers.  There are places to visit and acknowledgments.  Source notes, an index and picture credits complete the title.

To learn more about Larry Dane Brimner and his other work, please follow the link to his website attached to his name.  I believe you will enjoy reading his other award winning books.  I was ten years old during these twelve days in May.  I thank Larry Dane Brimner for this book.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to read about the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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