Monday, March 7, 2011

A Change Is Gonna Come

The Rock and the Riverby Kekla Magoon, Aladdin, 2010, 304 pages, ISBN: 1416978038

Chicago, 1968.  Thirteen-year-old Sam Childs is the son of civil rights activist Roland Childs.  When a group of white men armed with bats and sticks starts beating an old woman at one of Roland Childs's rallies, Sam's seventeen-year-old brother Stick steps in to defend her.  Stick is injured and winds up in the emergency room of a local hospital.  Roland is very upset, as he tells Stick, because he expects his sons to adhere to his oath of nonviolence. Stick does not agree and thinks fighting back is the right thing to do.

When Roland learns that Stick is a member of the Black Panther Party, the rift between Roland and his son grows wider, and Stick leaves home.  As for Sam, he feels caught in the middle and misses his brother.  He's also curious about the Black Panthers and wants to take their "political education" class on Wednesday nights.  Of course, his parents would never allow this, so Sam has to sneak out to attend class.  At the same time, Roland has an upcoming demonstration and recruits Sam to assist in making calls, writing letters, and securing permits.  Sam has been raised to believe that nonviolent resistance is the right thing, but then he witnesses a violent attack on a friend by the police, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated, and suddenly he isn't so sure if nonviolence is the right path.  Stick tells Sam that he has a decision to make:  "You can't be the rock and the river," says Stick.

The Rock and the River, the first children's book to deal with the Black Panther Party, is edgier than One Crazy Summer, though both books present the Black Panther Party as a positive institution.  The Rock and the River shows that the Black Panthers arose because of daily injustices perpetrated against black people.  The Black Panthers receive money in the mail and use it to feed school children breakfast, to pay lawyers to defend black people unjustly accused of crimes, and to build clinics.  Middle school students will learn of the conflicts between the Black Panther Party and the older civil rights activists and what it was like to be a black middle school student 40 years ago.  They will also learn that though many carried guns, the Panthers agreed with the nonviolent activists that "people are more afraid of ideas than of guns."

1 comment:

  1. I've wondered more about the Black Panthers since reading One Crazy Summer. This sounds like a good choice and one I missed. Thanks for the heads up. -T