by Kristin Levine, published 2012
“I think a friend is someone who helps you change for the better. And whether you see them once a day or once a year, if it’s a true friend, it doesn’t matter.”
This is one of the few children’s books that took me weeks to finish. Often, it portends a children’s book that I won’t recommend for the website. In this case, it’s the opposite. This is a compelling and important book for today’s world, and yet, it was painful to read, because I wished none of it were true. Yet not only are the historical incidents from 1958 factual, they also represent the contemporary battle for racial equality as well. One wants to read this children’s book as if it were history that has completed its cycle, with a happy ending. Alas, this is not so. The world is a very complicated place, indeed.
My real motive for offering this children’s book is that I believe our children must be able to viscerally experience the pain and hurt that comes from discrimination. Only then will children grow into adults who say, “enough.” What better way to educate children than through two very likable characters, middle-school girls, whose friendship gets torn apart because of racial injustice. I think we owe it to the world and the children to tell stories like this that get to the heart of the matter — discrimination and injustice cause pain to good human beings.
This children’s book could be used in a classroom, or as a family conversation. It is beautifully and realistically written. It is not easy, because we are confronted with the least pleasant side of humanity. But it is heroic, as we watch a 12-year-old girl come out of her cocoon of silence, finds her voice, and speaks up for friendship and against ugliness, bringing others along with her in the process.
I hope parents and children can read this together, offer comfort for the pain, and create their own plan to continue to work for change in the future. Good book for 11 to 14.