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.)

Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker (Patricia Hruby Powell)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, a powerful biography of the passionate civil rights icon.

Growing up in segregation-era North Carolina, Ella Josephine Baker was raised by the words and stories of her grandparents. Her preacher grandfather spoke of freedom, cooperation, and community, imploring his congregation to consider: “What do you hope to accomplish?”. Her grandmother spoke of life under slavery, and her defiance of marrying for love rather than at the command of her slave master – who also happened to be her father. Drawing inspiration from the pride and community of her home, Ella established her own personal creed, “Lift as you climb.” With this tenet firmly in mind, Ella set out on a life’s mission to improve the lives and rights of her fellow African Americans, through her work with the NAACP, the SCLC, the Freedom Riders, and in the living rooms and churches of anyone who gathered, listening to her words and her simple query – what do you hope to accomplish?

Moving. The life story of a somewhat lesser-known figure of the civil rights movement is beautifully related through rich, expressive yet educational text and beautiful African American folk art-inspired illustrations. While not inappropriate for the intended age-range, the text is refreshingly frank about the black experience during the Civil Rights movement, describing the fire-bombing of buses, police brutality, and even the sexism against women within the movement itself. The repetition of key phrases and concepts tell a story of perseverance and leadership, one that will inspire any reader, young or old. The length is best for slighter old bookworms, but JJ was fascinated by the steady rhythm of the text and the beautiful artwork. A fantastic biography of a oft-unsung hero, and we loved it; Baby Bookworm approved!

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

Let The Children March (Monica Clark-Robinson)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Let The Children March, written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison, a powerful account of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.

In Jim Crow Alabama, a little girl’s family attends church to hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. He is trying to raise a peaceful army to march for civil rights, but the attendees are reluctant for fear of losing their jobs. But a remarkable group from the congregation step forward to volunteer: teens and children, who sagely point out that they have no jobs to lose. The adults, including Dr. King, are hesitant – even peaceful protests can and often do turn violent – but the children insist; it’s their own rights they’re marching for, after all. On a sunny Thursday, one thousand children begin their march and, over the course of three days, thousands more would join – despite being harassed, threatened, brutally assaulted by police, and arrested. But in the end, their courage was a landmark moment for the movement that caused the world to sit up and take notice, and began a wave of desegregation in Birmingham less than a week later.

I am always shocked that the Birmingham Children’s Crusade is not a more wildly-known event, likely because of the national shame the horrific treatment of American minors brought. Clark-Robinson handles this difficult story deftly, putting the reader into the perspective of a young, unnamed marcher and allowing them to connect to the pain, pride, and perseverance of the children and teens who marched. Each child is illustrated in exquisite detail, giving every character vivid personality and humanity. The art also doesn’t shy away from the violence, an bold choice – children are seen huddling against fire hoses and cowering from attacking police dogs, clothing tattered and bloody. It’s never exploitative, but brutally and vitally honest of what these kids risked to be heard. The length is fine for most reading levels, and JJ was spellbound by the heartbreaking art. This is a book that should be read by bookworms of every age, to pay tribute to these brave young people and remind us that courage knows no age. Baby Bookworm approved.