Category Archives: Jim Crow laws

Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven

Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven

Today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday is Let Them Play

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Written by: Margot Theis Raven

Illustrated by: Chris Ellison

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press (2005)

Suitable for ages: 7 and up

Themes/Topics: Little League Baseball, US history, segregation, racism, Jim Crow south, Civil Rights, perseverance, resistance, resilience

Brief Synopsis: The story depicted in Let Them Play is true. In 1955, a segregated South Carolina had sixty-two official Little League teams. Only one of them, the Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars had African-American players. Like most young boys who loved baseball, they wanted to play, but the other white teams didn’t want to play them. After the sixty-one white teams pulled out of the Little League and formed another program, the Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars became state champs by default. However they did not qualify to play in the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania because they hadn’t actually won any games or their state’s tournament. The team ended up going to the World Series anyway in hopes of taking the field. The title Let Them Play is what the boys heard from the crowds in attendance who wanted to see them play.

Opening pages:  “Most folks say it was Coach Ben Singleton who pulled the all-star dreams from the sky over Harmon Field and sprinkled them in the eyes of 14 boys the summer of 1955. Not that baseball dreams weren’t already rising high as the heat waves on noonday porches all over Charleston’s Upper Westside.

Boys wanted to be Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and mothers like Flossie Bailey on Strawberry Lane wanted to find their missing mop handles. Stickball players like her son John used the handles as bats to hit half-rubber balls and sandlot player made mitts from paper bags or cardboard sewn with shoelaces.” 

Why I like this book: Its baseball season and opening days are happening all over the country. My kids participated in team sports because we wanted them to learn about rules, and what it takes to be a team player as well as other life lessons.  There is much to learn from sports, like sportsmanship and playing fair. We also know kids learn that sometimes life can be unfair and even harsh.

Let Them Play is about the true life events of young athletes who were treated differently based solely on the color of their skin.  The bigotry and discrimination these young players experienced were common during this time, especially across the southern United States.  This story gives readers specific examples of what it was like for African-Americans who lived in the Jim Crow south during segregation where racism was so prevalent. It also shows readers examples of pride, perseverance, resilience and resistance. For those looking for a story with wonderful examples of how oppressed people navigated life under adverse conditions, this one hits a home-run.

 

Resources:

See discussion questions and activities from the William Allen White Children’s Book Award  here.

Check out author Susanna’s Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page here to read more of today’s book reviews.

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Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

Swing Sisters by Karen Deans

Swing Sisters: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans is my pick for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday in honor of Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Teacher’s Appreciation Week, both celebrated in the month of May.

Swing Sisters

Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda

Publisher: Holiday House (January 1, 2015)

Suitable for ages: 7-11

Themes:  women in music, educational activism, integration, jazz, gender studies, perseverance, inspiration, US history, Jim Crow laws, stereotypes

Brief Synopsis: This book brings attention to the first interracial all female jazz/swing band, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm formed in 1939 at Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi. The band became popular in the 1940’s and toured the US and Europe.

The story opens by bringing attention to Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, a black educator who started a school in 1909 for orphans in Mississippi. Music education eventually became a part of the school’s curriculum and many of the Sweethearts were part of the school band.

Swing Sisters highlights the struggles these women endured from society because of both race and gender.

Opening pages:  “Way back in 1909, not far from Jackson, Mississippi, there was a special place for orphans It was called Piney Woods Country Life School.

A man named Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones started the school. He wanted to make sure these African American kids had a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a good education. In return, the children worked at the school to earn their keep. Some planted seeds and picked weeds outside on the farm; others chopped vegetables in the kitchen or did laundry.”

Why I like this book: A great example of history using a story that inspires and educates. During one of the most difficult times in US history when the intent of oppression from Jim Crow laws was to prevent African Americans from achievement, this band of talented women, black and white, formed and succeeded in entertaining Americans and Europeans.

Further research shows Dr. Jones came from a family of educators, with an uncle who started a school back in 1846. When Dr. Jones learned about a county in Mississippi that had an eighty percent illiteracy rate, he moved there from Missouri and eventually started Piney Woods Country Life School.

Resources: See the Teacher’s Guide here. Listen to their story on NPR. Listen to them play! Dare you not to boogie!

For more of today’s book reviews from May 15, 2015, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/22/134766828/americas-sweethearts-an-all-girl-band-that-broke-racial-boundaries

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