My Review: Mildred Taylor’s novels are based on stories her father and other relatives told her. She says, "My stories will not be 'politically correct,' so there will be those who will be offened by them, but as we all know racism is offensive. It is not polite, and it is full of pain." Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry won the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature in 1977. It was also named the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year and an ALA Notable Book.
Since the novel’s publication in 1976, it has been the subject of numerous ban attempts. In 2004, a family wanted it pulled from the classroom because of its “harsh depictions of racism and its use of racial slurs.” You can read more of the story here. While this book does contain somewhat “harsh depictions of racism and use of racial slurs,” I feel that the potential for increased understanding, empathy, and growth far outweighs the words and situations used to convey this story.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is set in Mississippi during the 1930s. For those who perhaps aren’t history minded, this is the middle of the Depression, after the abolition of slavery but before the major push of the Civil Rights movement. At the time, many black families scratched out a living through sharecropping. They were forced to endure appalling racism on land that was not their own and left at the mercy of the rich, white land owners.
Cassie Logan and her family live on their own land -- an almost unheard of occurrence for the times -- in a county rife with racial tension. Cassie and her siblings are forced to walk to a black school each morning, when white children are allowed to take the bus. They notice when they are given text books only when they are no longer deemed suitable for white students, and they worry that the “night riders” will strike again.
While Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry clearly raises the issue of racism, it does so without going into more detail than a child could reasonably understand. It is told from the perspective of a young girl named Cassie, who struggles to understand the cruelty and injustice of the world around her. In spite of daily reminders of her “place,” Cassie is still idealistic, though indignant, and unwilling to submit to the idea that she is a second-class citizen. I loved several of the characters in this book (Mr. Morrison, Little Man, and even T.J. … a little bit). Their experiences were engaging, with tremendous teaching potential and plenty of room for discussion.One of my favorite quotes from the book (some advice Cassie received from her father) highlights the importance of standing up for what is right and respecting yourself: “There’ll be a whole lot of things you ain’t gonna wanna do but you’ll have to do in this life just so you can survive… . But there are other things…things you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what them things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what you stand for – that’s how you gain respect. But…ain’t nobody’s respect worth more than your own.”
You just can’t argue with a message like that, though it seems some people will try.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
For the sensitive reader: Repeated use of the "N" word, though historically accurate and necessary within the context of the story. Some violence towards the end, but not overly graphic.
Sum it up: A wonderful read on the importance of equality and for standing up for what is right, regardless of the cost.