Middle Grade Book Review ~ The Lions of Little Rock

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Marlee’s world is changing. Her older brother is off to college, her sister is being shipped off to their grandmother’s because the high schools are all closed in protest of integration and she’s not sure she’ll be able to handle things on her own. She’s basically a selective mute speaking only to her family (mostly her sister) and providing one word answers at school when forced. And then Elizabeth shows up. Liz has a way of pulling the words out of Marlee and making her do things she never thought possible. But when it’s discovered that Liz is actually a light-skinned Negro their friendship becomes forbidden. Their world is volatile and the racial tensions in the city are real and life threatening.

When Liz goes back to her school she enlists Marlee to help her learn to be quiet and ignore the comments and slams she receives. The girls sneak around in an effort to see each other and call each other on the phone using fake names. Their efforts lead to more and more trouble until it escalates into an older white boy’s violent actions against Liz’s family and neighbors. But the girls won’t be deterred.

Listening to the lions in the nearby Little Rock zoo roar each night Marlee bolsters her courage (much as the lion in the Wizard of Oz, a movie the girls see together, does as well.) She decides to do what she can to keep the first friend she’s ever had.

Marlee and Liz deal with realistic portrayals of racism, ignorance and bigotry even from members of their own families. There’s a lot of history here with some background information on the NAACP, Emmitt Till, John Carter, the KKK, the Little Rock Nine, lynchings, bombings and more. There’s enough info given to explain the gravity of the situation without dwelling on it all, as befits the target audience.

Marlee is a fantastic character with a great voice and insight into the people around her. Because so much of her dialogue (at least at the beginning of the book) is internal we see her growth and evolution in a very direct way through her thoughts but also the words she chooses to say aloud and those she chooses to say them to.

Here’s a sampling:
You see, to me, people are like things you drink. Some are like a pot of black coffee, no cream, no sugar. They make me so nervous I start to tremble. Others calm me down enough that I can sort through the words in my head and find something to say.

My brother, David, is a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day, when you’ve put your feet up in a hammock and haven’t got a care in the world… (pg 5)

Each new person she comes to interact with is labeled in this way; bubbly sodas, wholesome milk, shots of whiskey. Eventually it all leads to this conclusion near the end of the book:

Summing people up as a cola or a coffee wasn’t really fair. Most people were a whole refrigerator full of different drinks. Trying to force them into one cup or one glass meant I never really got to know them. (pg 271) 

Not only does little Marlee find her voice but through her influence the people around her find their voices as well and slowly change begins to come. This is a quietly powerful fictionalization of ‘the lost year,’ 1958 (the year following the events of the Little Rock Nine) and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, the Civil Rights movement, equality or just plain great stories.

Lions of Little Rock Book Review

 

The Lions of Little Rock

Written by: Kristin Levine

Number of Pages: 298

Publisher:  Puffin Books, 2013

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Music Monday ~ Welcome, November!

Page and Print November Playlist 2018

How the heck is it already November!? I feel like time is not just marching on but it somehow got a hold of a fast Italian sports car and is steadily trying to run me over. This month is absolute madness around here and the holidays are just around the corner which means the list of things to do has multiplied a thousand-fold and is begging me to gift-wrap, bedazzle and hand-deliver every item while singing carols…and probably dancing too. Sheesh! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

In an effort to tame just a bit of that madness I made a goal last year to get Christmas cards and neighbor gifts and the bulk of the shopping done by Thanksgiving so that we could spend the month of December in a state of relative relaxation just enjoying each other’s company and all the events and hoopla that will inevitably crop up. Little did I know that we would book a spontaneous trip to Ireland, that I’d take it into my head to plan a surprise party for my husband’s 50th birthday, have tickets to several concerts and performances, and start the month out with an awesome cold. Add to that the preparations for Thanksgiving and everything I need to do to help contribute to this amazing event at the end of the month, and well, there’s a lot on my plate. Needless to say it won’t all get done in the time or way I’d hoped but I’ve decided to just go with it rather than stressing. (We’ll see how well that works, but that’s the plan!)

So, my Christmas cards have become Thanksgiving cards which will give me a chance to shower my loved ones with gratitude for their influences in my life. And hopefully will be a bit more personal and standout rather than becoming lost in the deluge at Christmas time. It also gives me a great opportunity to share this Thanksgiving playlist with everyone. One of the things that has saved my sanity over and over again throughout my life is music. I firmly believe heaven will be one continual musical with people spontaneously breaking into song and dance at every opportunity (and I firmly believe that I will thus be blessed with the ability to dance!) So, as I will wish to everyone on my Christmas card list a few moments carved out of the craziness to be able to listen with those they love, so I wish to you.

And here are a few other things I’ve learned that have helped me make it through some of the busier moments:

  • Make a list! While it’s sometimes overwhelming to see the pages and pages of things that need to get done it makes it so much easier for me to group tasks together, prioritize and work out a plan of attack. Can you make phone calls while waiting in the carpool line? Can you group errands to save you some trips?
  • Make a list part 2. Take a really good look at that list. Can you outsource anything? Or drop it altogether? While we sometimes think that we need to do it all, honestly some things just aren’t important. If it’s not going to feed your soul (or your family) then maybe it doesn’t really need to be on the list. Be honest and brutal…it’s okay to say no, to buy cookies for the bake sale instead of making them, or let the kids skip out on soccer this season. The world won’t end. I promise.
  • Take time to take care of yourself. This one can be tough. It’s easy to justify skipping the workout to squeeze in another load of laundry or eating the cookies instead of an actual lunch but resist! The old adage ‘if mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy’ applies in spades here. If you’re well-rested and healthy you can take better care of everyone and everything. So find a few minutes to do some yoga or meditation, stock the fridge with some quick, healthy snacks, stick to your sleep routine; your immune system will thank you.
  • Take care of yourself part 2. Schedule in a few minutes daily to unplug, unwind, and really relax. This works especially well if it’s something out of the ordinary so that it truly feels like a splurge and gives your mind a chance to reboot. Grab an adult coloring book, savor a piece of fancy chocolate, take a walk and observe what’s around you, immerse yourself in a song or piece of music; whatever it is that makes you happy make sure you find a little time to do it fully and mindfully.

What are your favorite tips for preparing for a stressful event or time? (or keeping your sanity on a normal day?!) Any favorite songs you listen to around the holidays? I’d love to hear about them!

And good luck to all of you and whatever holiday madness may come your way. You’ve got this!