There have only been a handful of books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list that have been tough to read, books with real substance and weight. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1975) by Mildred D. Taylor was by far the hardest but I am so thankful that this was the book that was in my hands after this unexpected election.
What it’s about: The African-American Logan family live in Mississippi during the Great Depression. They own their own farm and so are better off than many of their black friends. Still, this is no insulation from the abuse that they will inevitably suffer from their white neighbors. And ten-year-old Cassie learns about the reality of life as a person of color both from the way she is treated by the white folks and also from the strength and wisdom of her parents and grandmother.
Age level: Grades 6+
I’ve taken out the “best/worst” part this time because this book is amazing and difficult. This is from Taylor’s foreward:
From Song of the Trees, my first book, to The Land, my current work, I have attempted to give a true picture of life in America as older members of my family described it, and as I remember it in the days before the Civil Rights Movement. In all of the books, I have recounted not only the joy of growing up in a large and supportive family, but my own feelings of being faced with segregation and bigotry. … unfortunately, as we all know, racism still exists.
In my books I have tried to present a history of my family as well as the effects of racism, not only on the victims of racism, but also on the racists themselves. I have recounted events that were painful to write and painful to be read, but I had hoped they brought more understanding. Now, however, there are those who think that perhaps my narrations are too painful and there are those who seek to remove books such as mine from school reading lists. There are some who say the books should be removed because the “n” word is used. … There are those who do not want to remember the past, or who do not want their children to know the past, and who would whitewash history.
In recent years, because of my concern about our “politically correct” society, I have found myself hesitating about using words that would have been spoken during the period my books are set. But just as I have had to be honest with myself in the telling of all my stories, I realized I must be true to the feelings of the people about whom I write, and I must be true to the stories told. … My stories will not be “politically correct,” so there will be those who will be offended by them, but as we all know, racism is offensive.
It is not polite, and it is full of pain.
I was not offended in the slightest by this book but my heart was broken over and over again. The use of hateful language, the images of a scarred man who had been set on fire, and all of the other realities of life in 1930s Mississippi for a black family are not easy to stomach. This is an America that was not better or great. It was horrific for a large number people in our country. It was tempting to copy out a dozen or so of the most painful and educational parts of the book to share with you all but, instead, I ask that each of you find a copy of this book and read it for yourselves and with your children and students. It will inspire you to never let America move backwards, regardless of the backwards thinking of some of its citizens.
Now, moving forward, I’m making an executive decision. I’m not going to read The Long Winter due to its depiction of Native Americans and the series’ general dismissal of their plight. I know these books are favorites for many readers but I’ve now read two of them and, frankly, can’t stomach another, especially in light of what is currently happening in North Dakota and around the country. I’m also not going to reread Peter Pan, again because of the horrible “red man” stereotypes. Instead, I’m going to move up Number the Stars and have another tough but I’m sure educational and fulfilling read.