Last month I shared the childhood story of my education into the world of racial prejudice (The Colored Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence). I told you it was a set-up for the book review in a future post. I decided to make it book reviews—two middle grade novels by Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken.
Middle-graders are ready to expand their horizons past their own homes and friends, to take on the deep questions of life and decide how they will choose to live. Taylor’s books are a great start in helping them examine the concept of prejudice.
Set in the Depression Era, the books follow an African American family in the Deep South, poor in possessions but rich in love, who have the rare distinction of owning their land, much to the chagrin of the white plantation owners surrounding them.
Both stories are narrated by Cassie Logan. From her earliest memories, Cassie knows she must steer clear of trouble from whites because whenever there is a showdown, the Negroes lose. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry starts when Cassie is nine. The main story follows events leading up to the murder of a white man and ending with a black teenager wrongly convicted of the crime. As we read, we live what Cassie lives—her fears, her pride, and her anger at how unfair life is for black families.
We also see the white culture of the time—the raw power of the landowners, the hate and arrogance in the hearts of so many men, women, and children, and the woefully few who see the injustice. The last group lives between a rock and a hard place. If they try to stop the evil, night riders destroy their homes and livelihoods, and they lose every person who might have been called a friend.
The novel also contains its own water fountain scene. While my tale from last month was humorous, Cassie’s story could have been tragic. She saw a water fountain in the courthouse, and she was thirsty. Only it was a WHITE water fountain. As she stepped up to it, her white friend yanked her backward and hauled her out of the courthouse before anyone saw she was in the hallway much less ready to drink from their fountain. He deposited Cassie with her older brother Stacey, who was furious. With her. When Stacey pointed out she could have been hanged for using that fountain and Jeremiah had saved her life, any hope she ever had of being considered equal with whites died on the courthouse lawn that day.
Let the Circle Be Unbroken continues the story of Cassie’s family. She’s eleven now, a little wiser, closer to womanhood. Stacey warns her she can’t be friends with Jeremiah, who is always nice to their family. The black man has learned by experience, that even if the white man seems friendly, you never know when he’ll buckle under the pressure of his own culture.
Against his parents’ wishes, Stacey leaves home determined to help the family earn money. His father knows a black boy on his own is easy prey for unscrupulous white bosses. He follows every lead to find Stacey and bring him home. While mother and father search, Cassie and her younger brothers learn several lessons about surviving in an unfriendly world.
Taylor has written other books about the Logan family over the course of twenty years. She gives us an eye-opening and heartwarming view into the heritage of African Americans. When she must describe a violent scene, her words pack an emotional punch instead of embellishing every bloody detail. Her message goes beyond the sting of racial conflicts and offers hope to humanity through the deep questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the light of individuals who choose to do right.
A couple of my favorite Bible verses are “13Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a]that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV) and one of my favorite books is The Pilgrim’s Progress. This evening I will begin an amazing adventure that is the answer to a prayer I didn’t even officially pray!
Our church offers a 2-year leadership training for the men in our church called Timothy Leadership Training or TLT based off these verses. Two years and my husband was tapped to do it and it was life-changing for us and our marriage.
Now they’re starting one for women. I am so excited about this opportunity and humbled that I was selected. The best part is that we’re doing mostly the same books the men did, weighty books on topics like spiritual discipline and church doctrine.
I was telling someone about the Ladies’ Leadership Training (LLT), and the person made a comment about there being good books for women in leadership. I was kind of irritated and insulted. I get so frustrated that somehow I’m supposed to fit into this nice “church lady” mold. I’m supposed to love playing with babies, sing in the choir, and get “the feels” in Bible study to the point that I need a tissue for something other than seasonal allergies. I don’t want to study something geared for women like some Victorian who can’t handle “the men’s version”. I want to study the authoritative books used in seminaries. And for those of you who went to Steve Laube’s session at Realm Makers 2016, a couple of the titles we’ll be studying are on his recommended reading list. Spiritual disciplines is one of them.
As for being like most women, I don’t like kids until they can read chapter books, I’m painfully tone deaf, and I want to study deep stuff. Dig into God’s word, preferably one that requires using Vine’s Bible dictionary and Strong’s concordance. I want to learn, be challenged, struggle, and ultimately change. The reason Matthew 7:13-14 appeals to me is that I see my daily walk as a quest. One with dragons and sorcerers and dark cloaked in light. Enemies to defeat. Innocents to rescue. And to come through the battle stronger than when I entered.
I love theology and Bible study. My mentor and I are wrapping up The Cost of Discipleship right now. A couple of years ago, I read Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. If I have to face persecution, I want to go down fighting!
What are some of your favorite Bible study books?
For the first time in my life, I celebrated my November 14th birthday with 99% assurance of my birthmother’s identity. Thanks to the DNA testing results from Ancestry.com paired with the expertise and diligence of a kind-hearted genealogy geneticist and aided by the discovery of mine and my daughter’s detective skills, we have uncovered the secret of one side of my birth equation. A member of this family—a presumed half-brother—kindly agreed to test his DNA, and the results substantiated our theory.
While the DNA findings are quite convincing, our digging for answers hasn’t uncovered one living person who can confirm that this woman gave birth to a daughter—or was even pregnant—in 1963. Because she died unexpectedly in 1990, her DNA can’t be tested nor can she corroborate the scenario. The lack of this absolute proof leaves a squiggle of doubt that we will try to erase in the coming days with one additional DNA test.
My newly discovered sibling not only agreed to share his DNA results with a stranger, he has been incredibly open to the possibility of a sister he never knew existed. I feel as if I’ve been on a tilt-a-whirl the past few months. He must feel as if a cyclone swooped him up and deposited him in an unfamiliar land. Yet his willingness to delve into this decades old mystery along with me has been such a blessing.
Evidence is mounting that no one other than my birthmother had knowledge of the pregnancy or a “door step” baby. The more I think about how alone she was, how traumatic it must have been to go through all of that and then to wonder for years what became of the baby, a sadness swells inside me. My half-brother grieves over this as well.
The vague, back-burner wonderings I entertained each November about whether I’d ever meet my birthmother multiplied by tenfold when I learned of the door step detail. As I embarked on this quest, I hoped doors would open to the chance to say, “It all turned out okay.” But now that there will be no chance to announce, “I’m fine” or to ask, “How have you been?” I’m disappointed. But it’s not an I-wish-I’d-never-started-this-search kind of disappointment. Just a stab of remorse at the lack of closure.
And now the $64,000 question. Will I pursue the other side of the birth equation? The DNA results didn’t offer as many good clues on the paternal side, and frankly, I need to close the private investigator shop for some R & R. There’s always the chance I’ll wake up one morning to find a new DNA match, maybe a really close one, that will point in the direction of my birthfather. If that happens, I’m sure my curious nature will again shift into high gear. But for now, I think I’ll take a break from searching and focus on learning about my birth mom and her family with the gracious assistance of my new half-brother.
The newspaper account didn’t get all the details right. It was a DOG not a CAT the homeowner called to and I weighed 5 lbs. 12 oz. and was 19 inches long.
On a side note, a bit of “birth date mystery” trivia was resolved this year with the help of the official adoption file for “Susie Hope”. That’s the nickname bestowed on me by the nurses at the hospital and the name that was also used in the legal paperwork. A bit more personal than “baby Jane Doe,” isn’t it? Anyway, my parents celebrated my first birthday on November 20 as that’s the day the initial court documents said I had been born. Turns out that’s the day I officially became a ward of the state, three days after the November 17th discovery as an abandoned, estimated to be three-day-old infant. When my adoption was finalized a year later, those official documents pronounced my birth date as November 14.
It seems the official math went something like this. Day of discovery, November 17, minus the three days of my estimated age, equaled November 14th in the eyes of the court. My mom was none too happy about the clerical discrepancy as everyone who was anyone already knew her baby girl’s birthday to be November 20. However, at the court officials’ insistence, birthdays 2 and 3 and 4 and so on, were observed on the 14th.
A rather bumpy, uncertain beginning for me. An unimaginably difficult situation for my birthmother. But life went on for both of us. And GOD watched over the little one she couldn’t care for.
I’m still watching and listening and waiting for an “Aha!” moment that will define why the puzzle pieces are coming together at this moment in time. I really hope that moment comes, if not here on earth, than someday in eternity. Regardless, I trust in GOD’s precise, perfect timing.
Thanks for walking with me through this “slice of my life.” Feel free to share my story with anyone who might benefit from the evidence of a mighty GOD at work. And stay tuned for more because I’m pretty sure GOD’s not done with the lessons to be learned through this amazing journey.
Beth is passionate about seeing GOD at work in the “slices” of every day life AND about the saving of sex for marriage. She believes strongly in accountability and mentoring and considers herself a cheerleader for “renewed waiting” too. Because SEX is worth waiting for. She’d love to hear from you! Comment here OR email her at email@example.com. Connect with her on Facebook at Beth Steury, Author.
Written by David Almond
“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit.”
Michael has reluctantly moved across town to a new house. His baby sister is very ill and his parents are devastated and distracted, leaving Michael depressed and without his old friends. Exploring the overgrown yard, he ventures into a dilapidated garage. He discovers, under cobwebs and dead insects, a strange creature that resembles a weak old man named Skellig. He is such a pathetic being that Michael starts to take care of him. When Michael meets a neighbour, Mina, and he introduces her to Skellig. They move the winged creature to a safer place and take care of him until he starts to gain strength. Michael wonders if Skellig is part angel. Desperately hoping his sister survives a heart operation, Michael tells the creature about her. During the baby’s operation, Michael is sure she has died, but the baby lives, and the mom describes a vivid dream she had in the hospital of a winged creature visiting the baby before the operation. Skellig disappears but the healthy baby arrives home and the family is whole again.
Pros: The cover attracted me first, but soon the lyrical prose drew me in to the characters and the mystery of what and who Skellig was. Was it human, bird, angel or all of the above? The book is very clearly written from a boy’s perspective and voice, and rings genuine. Michael’s family is going through a lot of tension with the baby’s illness, and the mental anguish they are all going through is palpable. But the theme of the power of love carries through to the very satisfying end.
Cons: Michael and Mina associated with this strange human-like creature and hid this fact from their parents, so parents of younger children would have to remind them to never talk to strangers.
Personal Opinion: This is a very well written book with mystery, good character development and suspense, but more than that, Skellig can appeal to both YA and MG readers on different levels. The adventure of finding a mysterious creature in a scary place would appeal to the younger crowd and the lyrical prose and deeper themes would appeal to the older crowd. Skellig has won two awards and was nominated for five more, so this should give readers an idea of how popular the book has been. And I would agree wholeheartedly with their assessments. I highly recommend this book.
Discussion points for parents and teachers:
- There are many friendships. Find and discuss three.
- Michael was very unhappy in the beginning. How did Skellig help him feel better?
- Themes are recurrent in the book, like love and nurturing, connections, death, and spiritualism. Choose two and elaborate.
- The lyrical prose is different from many books. Describe the difference.
Nina Armstrong is a biracial teen whose mother is white and her father black. Fifteen is already a tough age but now her parents have divorced. Nina struggles to find her place in her family, school and a world where having dark skin labels you as “different”. Can the stories her father tell her about her great-great grandmother’s escape from slavery help her find own identity in a world that has gone crazy?
Pros: First of all, can we not just take a moment to speak of how wonderful this cover is?? Love it! I really like how this book tackles difficult topics without crossing a line for a younger audience. Nina is a very believable character and the layers of different points in history help to make it a rich read.
Cons: There are people who steal and shoplift but it is not condoned. Realistic (and pertinent) violence in the stories of slavery. Suggestion of sexual misconduct by slave owner.
Rating: PG 13 due to the sensetive topic and the realistic portrayal of slave life.
Personal Opinion: This is a well written book that I would recommend to tweens. Because it is written for younger teens those readers who are more mature may not find the tension high enough in this novel. However, this is a great springboard for discussion for those young teens who have questions regarding black history and racial tension today.
Discussion points for parents & teachers:
- Black history
- Judging someone by how they look
- Self Identity (finding out who they are as a person)
- Speaking up
For three months in 1961 while my father trained to fly the F-101 at Maxwell Air Force Base, I spent a portion of second grade in Montgomery, Alabama, a city that made international news with its race riots earlier in the year.
Keep in mind I was a protected, naïve child of the North. I knew nothing of Martin Luther King, Jr., of civil rights marches, or even of any resentment that whites and blacks had for each other. Back then, the word, “African-American,” hadn’t yet been invented. Instead, the politically correct term in the northern states was “negro,” and the southern states held to the traditional “colored.”
Once Dad had finished his training and was assigned to a base in Niagara Falls, it was time to buy airline tickets to send us to our new destination. While waiting at the ticket counter—forever—in my seven-year-old mind, I spied two, side-by-side water fountains. Each sat under a label attached to the wall. WHITE and COLORED. Intriguing.
I approached them, not particularly thirsty. WHITE sounded boring. It must be regular water. They should’ve labeled it CLEAR. But COLORED. What would colored water look like? I skipped over to the colored fountain and turned the handle to find out.
A shriek from the ticket counter pierced through the hubbub of the busy airport, stopping everyone in their tracks, including mine. “Little girl, little girl, get away from there!”
How many other little girls might be here? I hadn’t seen any.
Mom was at my side as I pivoted in search of her. “Linda. You can read. Why did you go to the colored fountain?”
Why was I in trouble? Why had a stranger screamed at me? My lip started to tremble. “I wanted to see the rainbow water.”
A negro lady close to me in the crowd that had gathered, smothered a giggle. Mom smiled. Taking my hand, she led me back to the counter. After explaining what had happened, my dad laughed out loud. The ticket lady didn’t think it was funny.
While Daddy finished the transaction, Mom gave me my first lesson in race relations as they existed in our country. “Linda, we’ve been in Alabama for a few months, now. Didn’t you notice the negroes are called ‘coloreds’ here?”
I shook my head. I had never paid attention to anything except my home and my classroom.
Mom sighed. “Down here everything is separate for negroes and whites. So we’re supposed to use the white water fountain, and they use the colored fountain.”
It didn’t make sense to me that people had to use different water fountains because their skin color was different, but I didn’t question it. Besides, I was more upset that the colored water didn’t look any different from the white water.
At seven, kids accept what is, even when they know it’s not fair. Give them another five years. They’ll either perpetuate the mores of their culture, or they’ll rebel and work to create something new.
You’re certainly welcome to comment on the personal story I’ve shared with you, but my purpose is to set you up for the next time I post. I want to share three books that portray the prejudice within our American heritage, then move on to the prejudice tearing apart our country today. How can we heal the rift?
I’m interviewing S.D. Grimm on her debut release Scarlet Moon. Oh my goodness I loved this book. I had it on pre-order and started reading as soon as I ran in from the mailbox. It has perhaps one of the best opening scenes-ever. No spoilers.
I picked it up expecting to like it, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. The story world sucked me in and pulled me along on Jayden’s quest. The multiple points of view help us see the world from various angles. Ethan is probably my favorite character, but Ryan’s arc may be the most fascinating. I don’t like love triangles and had reservations about the connections between Jayden, Ryan, and Ethan. It’s not exactly a love triangle, so it works.
You can buy Scarlet Moon here:
Scarlet Moon on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Scarlet-Moon-Children-Blood-Book/dp/1683700503/
I had the privilege of interviewing S.D. Grimm and found out some interesting things about her. In Scriblerian fashion we ask for a fun picture, usually a “way back picture”. S.D.’s is more recent but features another author from the Scriblerian’s Wall of Fame, Kerry Nietz.
So when asked, Marvel or DC?
BOTH! (True too! I’ve seen pictures of S.D.’s customized Captain America Converse)
In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
I think in the same way it impacts the way I approach life. It’s a living part of me, alive in everything I do. And I look at writing as a partnership with God. I hope he’s alive in my stories in a way I could never put him in there. I invite him to make himself a part of them in the only way he can—which is better than I could ever attempt to write him there on my own, I think.
How would you like to be remembered?
Wow. Going deep. I would love to be remembered as someone who showed love and let the light of Christ shine through her. As a writer, I’d like to be remembered as someone whose books—no matter how dark they got—always ended in hope.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
A few. One really good one is Micah 6:8 He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
When did you start writing?
In elementary school. I wasn’t serious about trying to get published until seven years ago, and that’s when I started writing Scarlet Moon.
What has your journey to finding an agent and the road to publication been like?
Hard. Crazy. The thing about this business is it’s not for the faint of heart. You better your craft all the time. You build your social media presence. You try to send the right work at the right time to the right people. You attempt to stay ahead of the curve without knowing where the curve is. You survive getting your heart broken again and again and again. You don’t give up. You make connections. Friends. Partners in writing who help and encourage you. You have fun. You learn a lot about writing and about yourself. And when something good happens and you take another step forward down this path, all those people celebrate with you. You find community. You work your heart out and wear it on the pages of your work. People will crumple it up, step on it, and some will even use it wipe the snot off their own faces. And then there will be those who feel what you’re trying to say. They’ll cherish it, and they’ll recommend that others read it. Some will misunderstand it. Others will get it. And still that journey—probably on the road less traveled—is just beginning.
What was your inspiration for writing Scarlet Moon?
I love animals. The novel I wrote prior to this one (which sits in a proverbial dark, secret drawer) was about animals. All the characters were animals. And one day I decided to get serious about publishing. Then I decided I was going to write about people. I still wanted animals to be a big part of the story so I chose to write about a race of people who can commune with nature. These people basically get certain talents or abilities from animals—and they reciprocate, giving animals certain abilities too. Then I researched some really cool animals, including mythological ones, and the story world really grew from there.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
To never give up. Sometimes things look bleak and impossible. Keep persevering.
What do you hope readers will take away from Scarlet Moon?
Persevere. And real love always protects, no matter the cost.
S.D. Grimm’s links and social media contacts
Website, blog, and newsletter. http://sdgrimm.com
S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and her debut novel, Scarlet Moon, is slated to be published in October 2016. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), making clay dragons for her Grimmlies store on Etsy, practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and doing anything outdoorsy with the family. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.