Tag Archives: civil rights

Malala, Modern Age Heroine: Six More Heroines You Should Know

11 Nov

Out of sheer curiosity, I asked my kids in the YA Department, “Who is Malala Yousafzai?”  I got sporadic answers like “She’s an activist,” “She got the Nobel peace prize,” and “She got shot!” (That last one was said a bit dramatically.) They got the idea of who she was. The kids may not be able to fully relate to her but they feel a kinship with her because she is their age. Malala is looked to as a hero by people of all ages, including myself. She lived in a part of Pakistan where the Taliban took over. Talibs did not see education as valuable especially for girls. In effect, Malala fought hard for equal education. For her efforts, she was shot in the head at 15 years old by the Taliban on her way to school. It took about a year for her to recover. This experience only made her fight harder for girl’s education. She founded the Malala Fund to raise awareness and money for girl’s education across the globe. Schools in remote parts of the world like a Syrian refugee camp have benefited from her fund. In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She even documented her experience in the book, I Am Malala. There are two versions, with one targeted to a young adult audience. To commemorate her efforts, her documentary has just been released about her life as one of the world’s youngest humanitarians.

To echo the words of Malala, “I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not.” She is one of many that fights or have fought for quality education for all. Below I have made a nonfiction book list of different Malala’s of different times and countries even our own. Here are some books that put the value of a quality education into perspective and others that tell what happens when that opportunity is taken away.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, by Jenny Norberg

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Even though I read this book earlier this year, I still look back at it with awe. It spoke of women’s issues and restricted rights in present Afghanistan. It appealed to me as an historian because it told of Afghanistan’s rich history. It also had an almost unbiased view of the rules that structure the society of the afghan people. In a society like Afghanistan, men are more valued because they are not limited by the demands of marriage and childbirth as women are. But, women found a way to combat this cultural sexism. The author zeros in on the practice of bacha posh, translated means like a boy. The practice is dressing a girl as a boy for the various reasons. It can be to give the family security in the absence of a male relative, generate income for a family by making the child the breadwinner, or for the simple reason of getting a quality education. Nordberg digs deeper into the psyche of the bacha posh. For example, by interviewing two women that are among the few to attend the university attested their success to being a bacha posh growing up. I’d recommend this book to anyone because it is an elegantly written and shows the resilience of the women of Afghanistan as opposed to certain popular news media. Recommended for ages 18+.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi

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This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s experience in the Islamic Republic of Iran as an educated professor forced to teach in secret. She takes seven of her most committed female students to continue their education in secret even from their own families. Pr. Nafisi has them read forbidden western classics authored by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Vladmimir Nabokov. The women accepted the challenge and educated themselves through these banned books. They further explored their wants in life or their frustrations at the world closing in around them. More importantly they discovered freedom in the very crime that they commit. Reading! Recommended for ages 18+.

Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges

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Ruby Bridges, a famous civil rights activist, wrote this book in the perspective of her six year old self. She reflects on her harrowing experience of coming to terms with racism and violence for being one of the first African-Americans to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Although, Ruby was in the protection of U.S Marshalls, they could not protect her ears from the threats that white supremacists shouted every day. One threat in particular was a lady threatening to poison her. Being six year old, Ruby takes it so seriously that she only eats plastic wrapped food. Through the chaos, shines the genuine love of her parents and her teacher, Mrs. Henry. Observations of young Ruby at the time were portrayed through written excerpts by her teacher, her parents, and even famous news publications like The New York Times. Although, this book is for ages 8 up, I enjoyed the testimony of bravery as an adult. (6 year old + desegregation = equal education.)

The Little Rock Nine

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The Little Rock Nine is another name one should come across when reading of the Civil Rights Movement. The desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was years before Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African American students that challenged the “Jim Crow law” to go to an all-white school. The experiences of these nine brave souls was very similar to Ruby Bridges but each unique in their own right. In the books, The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir by Daisy Bates, Warriors Don’t Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals, and Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick, are just some that will forever be immortalize Little Rock Nine. Recommended for ages 16+.

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by the Freedom Writers

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This book is the true story of Erin Gruwell and her students fight for a quality education facing gang members, abusive relatives, and school politics. The school they attended was in an inner city area where guns and drugs are a way of life for most students. Mrs. Gruwell is a first year teacher that gets assigned the “unteachable” students. These students are assigned to her with the intent to pass them through high school because what was the point of teaching them when they were either going to die or get pregnant by age 17. But, Mrs. Gruwell had the opposite in mind. Over time, she takes each hardened student and ingrains in them hope and confidence through her teachings that were related to their daily lives. Her success showed in the fact that all her students got to graduate high school. Some even got to be the first in their family to attend college. This book has been adapted into a movie (The Freedom Writers) with Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell. This book reflects on the education in most inner city schools that are simply given up on. The stories of these students and Mrs. Grewell are not unique. There are hundreds of failing schools in the U.S. with people like Mrs. Gruwell. This is a sad fact. This is an excellent book for especially educators. Recommended for ages 14+.

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali

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Nujood Ali was 10 years old when she was married off to a man three times her age in Yemen. As child bride, she was abused in her new home at the hands of her mother-in-law and husband. When she had enough of her situation, she runs away to the courthouse to get a divorce. With the help of a Yemeni lawyer, she was granted a divorce and makes a movement to increase enforcement of banning the marriage of underage brides in Yemen, like her sister and in other Middle Eastern countries. If education was a priority to Nujood’s family, would she have been married off at 10? I believe not. It is a book of a young girl’s bravery to go against her culture to find her own voice and freedom.  Recommended for ages 18+.

-Written by Elbie Love, Young Adult Library Assistant

Martin’s Children

7 Jan

January 15 is the 86th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, the legendary Civil Rights Leader. The Hoboken Library and other BCCLS libraries have countless books on Dr. King and his legacy.  However, it is even more interesting to read the stories of the people who were inspired by Dr. King to foment change in our country, or even those who predated Dr. King by fighting Civil Rights’ battles before the protests and demonstrations of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In this list of books, I have assembled only a small sampling of books about people who actually put their lives on the line to bring about change.  Most of these books are aimed at slightly older readers, perhaps from fourth grade through teens, because the subject matter is often hard to explain to younger readers.  For these children, it is appropriate to focus on Dr. King and Rosa Parks, the most identifiable and most written about figures of the Civil Rights’ Movement.  However, slightly older readers can expand their reading to include people, often students of their own age, who showed incredible courage to bring about the necessary change to our country.

(Click the images for links to the catalog.)

The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil rights Movement, by Teri Kanefield.

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“And the children shall lead.”  This is the story of a Virginia high school student who led a 1953 strike to get her ramshackle “separate but unequal” school brought up to viability.  When local groups would not back her on this crusade, she became a driving force, through non-violent protest, in getting schools integrated so that African American students would attend schools of equal quality to their white counterparts.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement, by Paula Young Shelton.

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The daughter of activist/politician/UN Ambassador Andrew Young shares her memories of growing up in the Civil Rights movement.  She speaks specifically about experiencing Jim Crow laws as a child, when she could not enter restaurants and movie theatres patronized by white people.  She also recalls sitting underneath the family table as Dr. Martin Luther King and her parents planned non-violent action.  As a four year old child, Shelton was taken by her parents to the historical march in Selma, Alabama.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joseph Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson.

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Two great men, both religious leaders of their own people, led parallel lives that led them to reach out to one another at a particular time in history.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel had experienced, first hand, discrimination against Jews in Europe and learned from his father’s wisdom to, “Walk like a prince not a peasant.  You are as good as anybody.”  In different words and different ways, Dr. King learned and conveyed the same lessons as they walked, side by side, in the march in Selma, Alabama.

We Shall Overcome, the Story of a Song, by Debbie Levy.

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It started as a hymn sung in African American churches, but it became a mighty anthem and the song most associated with the Civil Rights movement.  The lyrics conjure the unity and determination of a movement: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome someday.”

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney.

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The husband-and-wife team join their talents to tell the story of the lunch counter protests of 1960 became a part of history.  Through well-chosen words and food metaphors, Ms. Pinkney recounts the action of the seed group of four students who sat, politely, at a luncheonette counter in a “white’s only” area and asked to be served as equals.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, by Russell Freedman.

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The premier writer of juvenile non-fiction tells the story of Ms. Anderson, a child of Philadelphia, who developed her amazing contralto voice in church choirs.  Discriminated against in the United States, she went to Europe and trained to be a concert artist but, when she returned to her own country, she was prevented from performing in many venues.  The most notable act of discrimination occurred in 1939 when Anderson was forbidden by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) from performing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.  Championed by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the concert was moved to the Lincoln Memorial where Marian Anderson’s voice reached 75,000 people on the National Mall and thousands more through radio transmission.

The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine, by Judith Bloom Fradin.

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It took one woman to be an instrument of change.  This is the story of Daisy Bates who served as a mentor to the nine courageous young people who, under Federal guard, integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Despite death threats and personal harassment, Daisy and her group faced down a hostile community led by Governor Orval Faubus who blocked the doors of the high school to prevent the entrance of the Black students.

We’ve Got A Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, by Cynthia Levinson.

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This is the story of the historic march on Birmingham told through the eyes and personal recollections of four people who participated.  Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker III, Annetta Streeter, and James Stewart represented different aspects of the Black community, yet they came together to take part in this protest.  There were approximately 4000 young people involved in the protest, and 2500 of them were jailed for their participation.  The book also highlights the life of Fred Shuttlesworth, a compatriot of Dr. King’s whose work is less well known.

The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko.

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(This book will be published in 2015).  Until 1958, it was illegal for people of different races to marry in many states under miscegenation laws.  A Virginia couple who had married in Washington, D.C. and then returned to their Virginia home to raise their family, Richard and Mildred Loving were subsequently arrested for breaking the law prohibiting interracial marriage and became the test case in the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned these discriminatory laws and upheld their marriage as lawful.

The most amazing thing to me is that most of these books are far from ancient history.  Children can easily find older family members and members of their communities who can recall viewing the events of the 1960s on their small-screen television sets.  Meanwhile, it is important to understand the scope of the work that Dr. Martin Luther King and his compatriots carried out through books and films available through the library.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

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