Saturday, February 25, 2012

More Thoughts on Re-Visioning

This past week Becky Levine, author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, hosted me on her blog. I discuss how critiques I have received on Half-Truths have helped me shape and re-vision my work.

Click on over to Becky's blog and leave a comment. You'll be entered to win a copy of her book which should be on every writer's bookshelf. 

You only have until Monday to enter, so act now!!

I am also going to give away a copy of her book. So, leave me a comment and share this post on Facebook or Twitter--and I'll enter your name into my contest also. Contest ends on Leap Day- February 29th. 

One way or the other, I hope you win a copy of The Writing & Critique Survival Guide!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rosa Parks: My Story

Unaccustomed to attention, Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was an unlikely heroine of the Civil Rights movement. Yet on December 1, 1955 when she refused to relinquish her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, she set in motion events that she would not have dreamed possible. 

In her own words, this autobiography is a window into history and into Mrs. Parks' life. I read it to better understand the Jim Crow South as the backdrop of my work-in-progress, Half-Truths. Since I think she can tell her own story better than I can, here are some quotes that grabbed me.

About her maternal grandfather:
"My grandfather was very light complected (note: his father was a plantation owner), with straight hair, and sometimes people took him for white. He took every advantage of being white-looking.... He'd be introduced to someone white man he didn't know, and he'd say, "Edwards is my name," and shake hands with them. Then people who knew him would get embarrassed and have to whisper to the others that he was not white. At that time no white man would shake hands with a black man. And black men weren't supposed to introduce themselves by their last names, but only by their first names." p. 16

After being scolded by her grandmother for daring Franklin, a white 10-year-old boy, to hit her:
"...I came to understand that my grandmother was scolding me because she was afraid for me. She knew it was dangerous for me to act as if I was just the same as Franklin or anybody else who was white. In the South in those days [1923] black people could get beaten or killed for having that attitude." p. 23.

In 1941 Mrs. Parks got a job at the local Army Air Force Base. President Roosevelt had integrated the base but,
"I could ride on an integrated trolley on the base, but when I left the base, I had to ride home on a segregated bus. [A white woman worked in the same building as she did.] "We would get on the base bus and sit right across from each other....She had a little boy about nine years old...We'd sit across form each other and talk. .......when we'd get the city bus, the white woman would stop at the front and we'd go to the back and the little boy would be looking at us so strangely." p. 65.

In 1945, in Montgomery, Alabama:
"Black people had special rules to follow [on buses]. Some drivers made black passengers step in the front door and pay their fare, and then we had to get off and go around to the back door and get in. Often, before the black passengers got around to the back door the bus would take off without them. There were thirty-six seats on a Montgomery bus. The first ten were reserved for whites, even if there were no white passengers on the bus...Blacks were required to sit in the back of the bus, and even if there were empty seats in the front, we couldn't sit in them." p. 77

From her experience working as the secretary for the local NAACP office in the late '40's:
"We didn't have too many successes in getting justice. It was more a matter of trying to challenge the powers that be, and to let it be known that we did not wish to continue being treated as second-class citizens." p. 89

Remembering the conversation with the bus driver in 1955, after he asked her to get up to give her seat to a white man.
"The driver of the bus saw me still sitting there, and he asked was I going to stand up. I said, "No." He said, "Well, I'm going to have you arrested." Then I said, " You may do that." These were the only words I said."
"I was not tired physically...I was not old...I was forty-two. The only tired I was, was tired of giving in." p. 116

Remembering what Mr. Nixon, former head of the NACCP in Montgomery, said about her arrest:
"I was a perfect plaintiff....I had no police record. I'd worked all my life, I wasn't pregnant with an illegitimate child. The white people couldn't point to me and say that there was anything I had done to serve such treatment except to be born black." p. 125

During the year-long protest that the blacks staged against bus segregation; this was one group that became vocal:
"Some of the white women couldn't get along without their maids....The mayor appealed to them...He said the boycott was successful because the white women were taking all the maids back and forth. They said, 'Well, if the mayor wants to come and do my washing and ironing and look after my children and clean my house and cook my meals, he an do it. But I'm not getting rid of my maid." p. 145

Reflecting on how she was rattled when a reporter tried to intimidate her and find out "what made her tick."
"I was not accustomed to so much attention. There was a time when it bothered me that I was always identified with that one incident. Then I realized that this incident was what brought the masses of people together to stay off the buses in Montgomery. p.154.

Thinking about the problems blacks encountered (snipers firing, curfews) after the buses were integrated:
"Black people were not going to be scared off the buses any more than they are going to be scared unto them when they refused to ride." p. 159

About the Civil Rights Act of 1964:
"...[it] did not solve all of our problems. But it gave black people some protection, and some way to get redress for unfair treatment." 
p. 167

In 1992 she wrote:
"Organizations still want to give me awards for that one act more than thirty years ago. I am happy to go wherever I am invited and to accept whatever honors are given me. I understand that I am a symbol. But I have never gotten used to being a 'public person.'' p. 185

Her concerns for the future:
"What troubles me is that so many young people, including college students, have come out for white supremacy and that there have been more and more incidents of racism and racial violence on college campuses. It has not been widespread, but still it is troublesome. It seems like we still have a long way to go." p. 187


Without pride or self-consciousness, Mrs. Parks simply tells her story. Her life spanned almost an entire century; a century in which she was a witness to--as well as an instrument of--change. This autobiography is easy to read and I recommend it for both young and old readers.  We all can learn from her humble example.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kreativ Blogger Award

Elena Caravela recently honored me with the Kreativ Blogger Award-- which I didn't even know existed! In order to accept, I in turn most nominate six other blogs and tell you 10 things you might now know about me, and leave a comment on one of the blogs. So, here I go:

1. Joyce Hostetter's blog, "This Blog is history." With a subtitle like that, how can you go wrong? I have learned so much from Joyce: her passion for communicating the details of history in a  kid-friendly manner, her giving back to the writing community, her passion to use the right word for the right job.

2. The Write2Ignite blog brings together Christians who care about writing quality materials for children and young adults.

3. Barbara Younger blogs at Friend for the Ride. Since most of the blogs I follow are about writing, it is refreshing to follow someone who takes a humorous and informative look at menopause and the "mid-life roller coaster."

4. Becky Levine's writing blog. I draw upon her blogs repeatedly in my writing classes at Central Piedmont Community College.

5. Joy Acey's blog is aptly named Poetry for Kids Joy. Subscribe to this blog and you'll get a fun poem almost everyday in your inbox. 

6. Lori Baldwin's blog. Yes, she is my daughter so I am biased. But her blog, The Unmeasured Cup, is all about recipes she concocts and are gluten free. On top of it, her photography is excellent! Oh, and did I say she's a good writer to?
Now, for what you may or may not know about me:

1. I like digging in the dirt- planting flowers, tomatoes, or herbs.
2. I used to have a golden retriever named Pax. He was very unlike his name (Pax is Latin for peace).
3. I was widowed when I was 27. Remarried at 32.
4. Sometimes I eat peanut butter with cottage cheese on bagels for breakfast. A college friend once told me it was complete protein. Try it sometime-- you might like it!
5. I have my Bachelor's degree in Mental Health and my Master's in Counseling. 
6. Half-Truths (my WIP) started out as a picture book...many years and revisions ago.
7. My first published book was, "Friendship Counseling: Lay Counseling in the Church." It was translated into Chinese in 1998.
8. I like to swim laps.
9. I believe strongly that good communication is indispensible for building good relationships.
10. We are a family of females: I have 2 step-daughters, 3 daughters, there granddaughters, and one grandson (so far!).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two Outstanding Picture Books for African American History Month

I read Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges as a part of my research for Half-Truths.  I came across a photograph of Norman Rockwell's painting depicting Ruby's brave integration of her Louisiana elementary school. I saw the original "The Problems We All Live With" at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Ma. The huge painting of the white guards escorting the young black girl to school stuck in my mind. The docent remarked how Rockwell used a splatter of red to emphasize the story behind the illustration and how Ruby is pictured, but the men walking with her are faceless.

"The Problem We All Live With", 1963, Look, January 1964

Rockwell published this illustration in the January 14, 1964 issue of LOOK magazine. As Bridges quoted, Rockwell was inspired by John Steinbeck's Travel with Charley:

   The show opened on time. Sound of sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars  filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feel so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white. 

    The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. THe men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the btoad walk toward the school, adn the child was even more a mite becase the men were so big. Then the girl made a curious hop, and I think I know what it wa. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skppin, but now in the middle of her first skip, the weight bore er down and her little round feet took measured, reluctant steps between the tall gaurds. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school. 

Ruby Bridge's account of the events leading up to that day in New Orleans in 1960 are fascinating. She believes that she lost her childhood during that first grade year, when she integrated the school amidst boycotts, riots, and tremendous community tension. She was the only child in her class the entire year because white parents moved their children out. Attendence in school dwindled. Next year, her second grade class was integrated. "William Frantz School was integrated, but the long strange journey had changed me forever." (p. 53)

It wasn't until thirty years later, after her brother's death in a drug-related shooting, that Ms. Bridges began to realize the importance of what she had done in 1960. At that point she began to become proactive in the Frantz School and established the Ruby Bridges Foundation

This book integrates Ruby's story with local and national history. Newspaper photographs, accounts by her teacher and a child psychiatrist, and a 1960 quote from John F. Kennedy, "Can we honestly say that it doesn't affect our security and the fight for peace when Negroes and others are denied their full constitutional rights?" provide historical context for this picture book for all ages.  


The second book I want to highlight, is Ellen's Broom by North Carolina author, Kelly Starling Lyons. Recently chosen as one of four new picture books celebrating African American History month by USA Today, this story came from Lyons' research into her own family history. According to yesterday's USA Today, 

Author Kelly Starling Lyons was researching her family's roots when she came upon a copy of the 1866 Cohabitation List of Henry County, Va. As Lyons learned, the end of the Civil War meant that former slaves, living as husband and wife, could have their unions legally recognized by the Freedman's Bureau. That inspired a heartwarming story about how a young girl discovers the symbolic value of a broom. (Slaves once staged weddings using brooms they leap over "into life together.") Daniel Minter's vividly colored block prints are brilliant. 

I think both of these picture books are great classroom resources for African American History month. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Giving Away Glory Be- Part II

When Augusta Scattergood's debut novel came out at the beginning of this year, I blogged about the story behind the story. Now it's time for a review of the book itself.

Glory Be (Scholastic, 2012) spans two weeks in the summer of 1964 when Gloriana Hemphill turns twelve. In these eye-opening weeks, Glory becomes aware of the racial prejudice that permeates her Mississippi town. When the local pool ostensibly closes for repairs, Glory takes it upon herself to figure out the real reason behind the closing. In an act of bravery, she writes a scathing letter to the editor of the local newspaper decrying the prejudice which drove the Town Council's decision. Although the pool doesn't re-open that summer, the book closes with a triumphant July Fourth party at the library which both white and black patrons attend--despite the protests of a formidable citizen. 

Since I am also writing historical fiction that deals with race relations in the South, it is interesting to see what events Scattergood drew upon to write her novel. The story takes place in the middle of Freedom Summer and the author folded in real events that happened in towns near her on in Mississippi. The librarian and civil rights workers in Glory Be are based on individuals who Scattergood met.  I enjoyed the description of Elvis Presley's house before it became a shrine, and how she included Robert Kennedy's visits to a black church in the area. 

I was mostly drawn to Emma, the black woman who took care of Glory and her sister Jesslyn after their mother's death; she appears to be the wisest individual in the story. When Glory tries to figure out if the pool really has cracks or not, Emma answers, "What's broken is that some folks don't seem to like anything changing. Everybody's got to stay the same in this part of town." (p. 34) In this simple statement, Emma sums up the main theme of the book. 

Glory changes during these two weeks. She goes from being a self-centered child who is only worried about the pool being open for her birthday party, to someone who fights for the rights of others. Her letter to the editor was eloquent; I wished I had seen more of the maturation that led her to writing it. 

I also missed seeing Mr. Hemphill's influence in this story; for the most part he seems detached from his family. I wondered how both Glory and Jesslyn developed their tolerant attitudes in the deep South. There is also little attention paid to their mother's death which left me wondering about the girls' grief and the input her death had on them. 

Glory Be is a good introduction for both girl and boy 4th-7th grade readers into civil rights issues in the Deep South. This would be a great book to read for African American History month and one of my fortunate readers will receive an autographed copy of the ARC. Enter my giveaway contest either by mentioning it on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up to follow my blog. I will draw the winner's name on February 7, so leave me a comment (and your e-mail address) and I'll enter your name!


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