Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates (Chris Barton)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Steffi Walthall, a fascinating look at a lesser-known hero of the Civil Rights Movement.

Growing up in Jim Crow Florida, Alton Yates saw, time and time again, how black veterans were mistreated and discriminated against, despite putting their lives on the line for their country. After Alton’s mother passed, he decided to enlist in the Air Force – which had been recently integrated – to help support his family. At Holloman Air Force Base, Alton put his own body on the line in experiments on human endurance, contributing to scientific advances and forming a bond of respect and friendship with fellow airmen of all races. Yet when he returned to the South, he was struck once more by the indignities and disenfranchisement suffered by the black communities there. Determined to make change, Alton decided to put himself on the line once again – this time, for equality and justice.

A poignant and enlightening tale. Yate’s life experiences – including the often-overlooked Ax Handle Sunday riot, which left Yates with a prominent scar after he was brutally attacked – are a covered in a way that examines the multiple influences that spurred his choices, while also building to a climax that examines the difference between being a “warrior” and committing acts of violence. While the abrupt tonal shift from storytelling to moralizing can be jarring, the message is incredibly solid, especially after a harrowing account of Ax Handle Sunday over eight pages: violence does not make a warrior, nor does it make their cause noble. Barton’s text can be a little intricate at times, which can make reading aloud difficult, but he tells Yates’s story compellingly and with obvious respect. And while some of Walthall’s spreads underwhelm, others are gripping, stirring works of art. The length and tone are best for older elementary readers, but JJ and I enjoyed it overall; it’s a lesser-known story with a lot of impact and a fantastic moral. This is absolutely worth a look, and we recommend it – Baby Bookworm approved.

(Notes: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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