Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Evicted! The Struggle for the Right to Vote - book review - 1.12.22

In the past decade, I've learned more about the real, truthful, and actual history of the United States via children's literature than I ever did in all of my years in the classroom or via textbook.  Here's another bit of history that is new to me.

Evicted! by Alice Faye Duncan
Evicted! The Struggle for the Right to Vote
written by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by Charly Palmer
published by Calkins Creek

If you're like me, you've learned more about the Civil Rights Movement in the past decade.  I've read countless books and thank you to Mr. Representative John Lewis for giving us the March  trilogy and now Run.  However, the Civil Rights Movement was not solely centered in Alabama and Georgia.  It reached many states, including Tennessee.  In 1959, after continued efforts to deny Black people the right to vote and many difficulties with owning their own land, in Fayette County, Tennessee, a movement known as the Fayette County Tent City Movement occurred.  In a series of interconnected stories, author Alice Faye Duncan and illustrator Charly Palmer illuminate the people and narrative of what occurred.

Goodreads summary:
This critical civil rights book for middle-graders examines the little-known Tennessee's Fayette County Tent City Movement in the late 1950s and reveals what is possible when people unite and fight for the right to vote. Powerfully conveyed through interconnected stories and told through the eyes of a child, this book combines poetry, prose, and stunning illustrations to shine light on this forgotten history.

The late 1950s was a turbulent time in Fayette County, Tennessee. Black and White children went to different schools. Jim Crow signs hung high. And while Black hands in Fayette were free to work in the nearby fields as sharecroppers, the same Black hands were barred from casting ballots in public elections.
If they dared to vote, they faced threats of violence by the local Ku Klux Klan or White citizens. It wasn't until Black landowners organized registration drives to help Black citizens vote did change begin--but not without White farmers' attempts to prevent it. They violently evicted Black sharecroppers off their land, leaving families stranded and forced to live in tents. White shopkeepers blacklisted these families, refusing to sell them groceries, clothes, and other necessities.
But the voiceless did finally speak, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which legally ended voter discrimination. 

My thinking:
I loved the way Duncan pieced this together.  Instead of a long narrative, we see little stories that come from the people that instrumental parts of the Movement or were  affected by it.  Duncan describes the people and allows the reader to have a view or an idea of what type of effect this Movement had. It also showed the way people shaped the events that occurred during this time.  For me, with the wealth of information tied into this book, it helped me understand the human side to it instead of it being a long winded narrative.  Palmer's broad strokes and sometimes vibrant colors, sometimes muted colors, helped give more feeling to the story.
Instead of rushing into the story, Duncan preps the reader with some information.  First, she includes an overview of the Fayette County Tent City Movement.  This is helpful because it gives the reader some quick information to use as they read the stories and piece everything together.  There are also two layouts that feature the profiles of the people included in the stories.  Palmer includes paintings of each and Duncan gives some basic information.  It was interesting to see how many of them are still alive today.  I referred to the profiles pages frequently as I read the book.  This was one of my favorite parts of the book because it was so helpful.
Duncan includes a lot of source information in her backmatter.  I really appreciated the primary source photos and propaganda photos from the time period.  Along with additional sources for readers to find more information, there is even a music list!

I was fortunate enough to chat with author Alice Faye Duncan about these stylistic choices.  Here's what I asked:

There were two style decisions that I just loved. The first being that it was written through interconnected stories instead of a narrative. Can you talk about how you came to write it that way? And I loved the character profiles that were included at the beginning. I referred to them as I read! Did you always know you wanted them included? I am sure you were thrilled with Charly’s profiles!

And here are her answers!

1) There are several people who helped to make the Tent City Voting Rights Movement a success.  It thought it was best to capture these distinct personalities with at least one section dedicated to their specific challenges and contributions

2) When I finished the first draft, I submitted the profiles like a "Table of Contents" for the reader's benefit. It was my editor or art director, who suggested that Charly paint a portrait for each profile. My editor is Carolyn Yoder.  The art director is Barbara Grzeslo. They work and think as a collective of genius. Working with the both of them is most inspiring. 

Thank you for stopping by, Alice!

This is a must have book for schools that teach the Civil Rights Movement.  This is an area of interest for many readers and whether you use it as a read aloud, supplemental information to go along with your unit, or part of a text set, I highly recommend this book for 6th grade - high school libraries.

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