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Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Dear America Novel Tackles Civil Rights Movement

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 12-year-old Dawnie Rae Johnson dreams, she dreams big. That's about all she can do when it comes to her two biggest goals in life - meeting baseball great Jackie Robinson and becoming a doctor when she grows up. Neither's likely to happen for a poor colored girl living in small, segregated Hadley, Virginia. Little girls with no money can't travel to Brooklyn to meet baseball stars and students at dingy Mary Mcleod Bethune School don't grow up to be anything special. Everybody knows that. Even Dawnie, with her keen intellect and bold fantasies, realizes the futility of wishing too hard for something that will never come to pass. Still, a girl can dream, can't she?

Dawnie's stunned when a landmark Supreme Court decision (Brown v. the Board of Education) gives her an unbelievable opportunity to start turning her dream of attending medical school into a reality. When Prettyman Coburn, Hadley's all-white school, is forced by law to allow black kids to enter its doors, Dawnie's the first - and only - colored student to show up. Despite the protesters spitting on her from the sidewalks, despite the other kids staring her down, despite members of Dawnie's own community accusing her of acting "uppity," Dawnie's determined to get the education she deserves. But when her best friend deserts her, her father loses his job for supporting Negro rights, and the Johnsons have to rip their phone from the wall to stop hassling phone calls, Dawnie can't help but wonder - is integration really worth it?

In With the Might of Angels, a new addition to Scholastic's excellent Dear America series, Andrea Davis Pinkney uses the made-up diary of a fictional girl to tell an honest, compelling story about one of the most important events of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of us are familiar with the story of Ruby Bridges, but Pinkney's quick to point out that hundreds of other African-American children took equally courageous steps, some singlehandedly integrating schools in their areas. Dawnie represents all of them. She's an engaging narrator - smart, spunky, and completely sympathetic. Intertwined with the book's main conflict are several subplots that lift the tension, offering lighthearted moments which allow the story to feel both realistic and hopeful. Fans of historical fiction, especially those with an interest in the Civil Rights Movement, won't want to miss this one.

(Readalikes: The Dear America series reminds me of the American Girl historical novels. With the Might of Angels is similar to other children's books about the Civil Rights Movement, although I can't think of any specific titles. Can you?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for tension and some violence

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of With the Might of Angels from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!


  1. Oh I loved this series while growing up! I'm glad to hear that they published a new addition to the series.

  2. I love this series, but I had a hard time getting into this particular book. I agree it was well written and well researched, but I was really put off by the narrator's obsession with sports, since I am probably the least athletic person on the planet. So everytime she talked about sports I just lost interest...


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