Wednesday, 4 May 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Freedom Summer" ~ By: Deborah Wiles

Today we read the book, "Freedom Summer" by Deborah Wiles. 

Alisdair says:  "This book is about John Henry Waddell, who is black, and his best friend, who is white.  The story is told from the white boy's perspective.  The events of the story take place during the summer of 1964, just after the Civil Rights Act was passed.  The boys worked and played together and especially enjoyed swimming in Fiddler's Creek."

"John Henry swims better than anybody I know.
  He crawls like a catfish, blows bubbles like a swamp
 monster, but he doesn't swim in the town pool with
 me.  He's not allowed.  So we dam the creek with
 rocks and sticks to make a swimming spot,
 then holler and jump in, wearing only our skin."

"Then we float on our backs and spout like whales."
"One day the boys heard that the segregation laws would be changed the next day.  They were excited about going swimming together in the town pool.   John Henry had not been able to swim there before, because it was a White's only facility.  But the boys are disappointed when they arrive at the pool early the next morning.  Instead of finding refreshing water, to swim in, they find city workers pouring asphalt and tar into, what once was, the pool." 

"So we hunker in the tall weeds and watch all
 morning until the pool is filled with hot,
 spongy tar.  Sssssss! Smoky steam rises in the air.
  Workers tie planks to their shoes and stomp
 on the blacktop to make it smooth."
"It's so quiet now, we can hear the breeze whisper
 through the grass.  We sit on the diving board and stare
 at the tops of the silver ladders sticking up from the tar.
  My heart beats hard in my chest.  John Henry's voice shakes.
  'White folks don't want colored folks in their pool.' 
 'You're wrong, John Henry,' I say, but I know he's right."
"After discussing this sad turn of events, the boys  go and get an ice pop from the convenience store.  The white boy always used to buy two ice pops while John Henry waited outside.  This time, he could go through the front door and buy his own ice pop.  Later they would go swimming at the Creek.  Some changes take longer than others to happen."

"If I was one of the boys, I would have felt very disappointed that I couldn't swim with my friend at the public pool and very sad and angry officials would choose to ruin the pool instead of allowing blacks to swim there."   

This book, although fiction, is based on fact.  The author, Deborah Wiles writes, in "A Note About The Text": 

"I was born a white child in Mobile, Alabama,
and spent summers visiting my beloved Mississippi relatives.
  When the Civil Rights Act was passed, the town pool closed.
  So did the roller rink and the ice-cream parlor.
  Rather than lawfully giving blacks the same rights
and freedoms as whites, many southern businesses
 chose to shut their doors in protest.
  Some of them closed forever."

Thanks to Wiles, and her book about these childhood experiences, we have been provided much food for thought.


"Freedom Summer" was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2001.  This fiction picture book won both the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award (2002 - New Writer Award and Illustrator Award) and a Coretta Scott King Award (2002 - John Steptoe New Talent Award for the illustrator, Jerome Lagarrigue.)

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