rollofthunder.jpg

 

Today we’ll be discussing the 1977 winner, Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry. This one is a significant post because it is the first Newbery winner  that Sara, Jake and I all reviewed. Here’s to many more to come!

Sara’s Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Margaret D. Taylor presents a truly shameful time in the American South: 1930s Mississippi when Jim Crow was King. A time of in which signs proclaimed “Whites Only” at bathrooms, water fountains and lunch counters.  A time in which black children used outdated, discarded textbooks from white schools. A time in which a black girl was expected to move off the sidewalk to make way for a white girl. A time in which black patrons could wait for hours for service in a store, even if that service had already been started, as every white patron was served ahead of them. A time in which a perceived insult towards a white person resulted in a black person being burned, lynched or otherwise murdered with the law turning a blind eye. A time in which all of these things were perfectly acceptable because most white Southerners considered themselves superior to black people.

The Logan family is a black family with four children: Stacey, Cassie, Christopher-John and Little Man. The story opens on the first day of school; the children have to walk very far. The white school bus speeds past them, purposely throwing dirt on them. On the way to school, they meet up with a gossipy neighbor, T.J., and talk about their grandmother (Big Ma who lives with them) going to tend to the Berry family, who had members that suffered a “burning” the night before. At school, Cassie is excited to be issued a book for the first time, until she finds out the book is old and dirty, being a discard from the white school.

The Logan family does many things in the book to push back against the Jim Crow South. Mrs. Logan, a teacher in the black school, cleans and covers the discarded school books and teaches things that are left out of them. The children dig a ditch on the side of the road that breaks down the white school bus. After the burning, the Logan family leads a boycott against the store owned by those responsible, the Wallace brothers. The family also suffers consequences for their actions. Mrs. Logan is fired for not teaching the approved curriculum. The children fear that they will be found out and suffer the same treatment as the Berry family. On one of his trips returning to buy items from a store in another town, the Wallace brothers sabotage the Logans’ wagon wheel. When Mr. Logan attempts to fix it, one of the brothers shoots him and the wagon falls and breaks his leg.

The Logan family is rich in one way that many of their black neighbors are not: they are landowners. Big Ma and her husband bought the land from the “Yankee Carpetbaggers” after the Civil War. Big Ma transfers ownership of the land over to Mr. Logan and his brother, Hammer, so that no one tries to find a loophole to prevent them from inheriting it after she dies. Mr. Logan’s injury prevents him from working on the railroad, making it very difficult to pay the mortgage payment and endangering their hold on the property.

I felt extremely angry at the injustice portrayed in this book. On the trip where Mr. Logan is hurt, Mr. Morrison, a man who works for the Logan family, comes to his defense, injuring two of the Wallace brothers. Acting as if his brothers were innocent victims, the last brother later confronts Mr. Morrison for hurting his brothers. He threatens retribution, “I’m gonna come get you for what you done! You just watch! One night real soon…”

I bought the 40th Anniversary Edition of this book that came out in 2016. Not only does it have a gorgeous cover by Kadir Nelson and a wonderfully written forward by Jacqueline Woodson, but it is very timely considering the political climate of today. While we can certainly say things have improved since the 1930s, people are still mistreated and even killed because of their skin color. We still have work to do.

The writing of this story is superb. It is distinguished in character, setting, plot and theme. I give Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 5 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

Jake’s Review:

Roll of Thunder is much like the African American version of To Kill A Mockingbird, not in the events of the story but in style, character types, and the relationships between characters.Cassie, an African American girl in the 1930s, is like Scout in that she is unwilling to miss out on any adventure in which her brothers take part and that her eyes are usually the unfortunate source of potentially frightening events. This, like TKAM, is the story of growing up in a racist society. However, unlike Scout’s, Cassie’s education is one of learning what it means to be black in the 1930s south. Neither like what they learn, and both face these revelations with tomboyish stubborness. Disturbing at times, uplifting at others, this story is stylistically well-done. The characters are loveable and funny. To avoid becoming the easy critic, I’ll give it 4.5 pies, on the weak basis that perhaps the story could have provided more closure.

Benji’s Review:

This book was unfortunate enough to be published in the same year as one of my favorites, String in the Harp by Nancy Bond. After reading it,though, I’m not upset at all that this book won. String in the Harp isn’t for everyone, and I’ve always known that, but this book is one that everyone should read at least once. The injustices that happened during the post-reconstruction era in the South should never be forgotten.

This is one of those books where bad things keep on happening to the main characters and the bad things don’t ever let up. The Logans never lose their courage, though, and the whole family, adults and children, try to fight the injustice the entire novel, making their family a target for the “Night Men” aka the KKK.

There’s a saying I’ve heard a lot here in Alabama. It goes,”Thank God for Mississippi.” What it means is that no matter how backwards things are in Alabama, no matter how bad we are when it comes to education, wide-spread poverty and racism, Mississippi is always worse. At first when I read this novel, I said the same thing, and thanked God that I don’t live in Mississippi now, but I stopped myself and acknowledged that things like the events of this novel, and worse, happened in Alabama too.

Everyone that lives here thinks about these things sometimes. It’s part of our history, terrible as it is. Reading this novel, I was taken to a place, possibly for the first time, where I imagined what it was actually like for an African American living in the South at that time, It terrified me. I can’t imagine sitting on my porch with a shotgun all night pretty certain that hate-filled men are coming to burn my house with my family in it. I can’t imagine my daughter being thrown off of a side-walk by a grown man because she bumped into a white girl. I can’t imagine a whole race of people thinking they are better than me and my family.

It’s so easy to read a book like this in our comfortable homes, and get “fiction angry.” I mean the type of angry you get when a character you like in a fiction novel has something bad happen to them. You get mad while you’re reading, but when you shut the book, you can watch Seinfeld reruns or something, and forget about the injustice because after all, it’s just fiction. But the stuff in this book really happened. It happened for years, and occasionally, it’s still happening today! I hear condescending comments towards African Americans pretty frequently. The lynchings and the church burnings have stopped, but the hate filled attitude that was behind these crimes is still very much alive.

Ok, I’m ranting. I said all that, just to say, everyone should read this book at least once. It is one of the more deserving Newbery winners.

I gave it four Newbery Pies instead of five because I wasn’t really sure about the ending. Did the Logans lose their land because they couldn’t pay the taxes after the burnt cotton? The only reason I wonder is because at the very end Cassie says that she cried for the land. It was kind of ambiguous.

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

I think it’s interesting that Jake and I both had the same reason for not giving it five stars. The ending really wasn’t that clear. Maybe we should read the sequel one day.

That being said, if you are into this type of book, please go get yourself a copy of Revolution by Deborah Wiles. It is set in Greenwood, Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1965. It’s intense, beautiful and very well-written.

revolution

-Benji

 

Advertisements