I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but my current day job is in an ESL school. Perhaps this is a bit too on-brand, but I’m always telling my students that if they want a good English vocabulary, they need to read. Our school even has a little library that I curate.
The other day I saw a Ukrainian student walking around with a book and I asked him what it was about.
“Oh,” he casually said, “Just Black people.”
“Yeah, so let me explain. There’s this girl and she has light skin so the other kids tease her and call her things like zebra and it’s not good. But this is a long time ago. Black and white people are separated, so this girl really wants to go to Boston to live with her mom who is a singer. She goes, but she learns her mother has a girlfriend and her father is white so she’s not happy and she comes back home to South Carolina. But it’s not good there either because there is this boy she and her cousins are friends with and the white people say he killed somebody but he didn’t but because they are racist, they kill him anyway. For nothing, really, he’s a good boy. It’s sad, but I think we need to read these things because they are true history and we should all know.
Anyway, I think you should read this book. You would like it.”
You’re absolutely right, Ivan. I did. Thank you very much.
The author of this book is, in fact, that Karyn Parsons, aka Hilary Banks from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. (Me: Is that Hilary from the Fresh Prince? Ivan: What? No, there is no prince, this is an American book.) She wrote this book partly to explore what happy childhoods looked like in the segregated, racist South–such things did exist, despite the dangers of socially sanctioned racial terrorism. She does really a good job — this is a middle-grade novel and the kids are refreshingly childish. Heavy things happen, but so does cute kid stuff like fishing, art contests, berry picking and first crushes. In this context, I really appreciate that. Childhood is precious, and in a world where Black children are often adultified, this unexpected portrayal of pure kid joy and discovery is both powerful and enjoyable.
Parts of this book are built around the real-life case of George Stinney Jr., who was unjustly executed at the age of 14 after being falsely convicted of murdering two little white girls in Jim Crow South Carolina. Seventy years later, in 2014, courts found that George was in fact wrongfully executed and vacated his judgment. A terrible chapter of US history–but like Ivan said, we all need to know, and remember.
Truth and happy memories to How High The Moon.
(Beautiful people! This book was a nice surprise for me, and I might ask more students to recommend books to me. In the meantime, don’t forget that teachers don’t get paid well in America so any purchases you make from links on this site will result in a commission being paid to me. It’s called a side hustle. 🙂 If you’re interested in a curated selection of diverse books for diverse readers, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop landing page and take a look around. Thanks for reading, and peace!)