Before I get on to books, I wanted to let all of my blogging friends not already connected with the Cybils know that Cybils season is coming up. If you’re interested in being a Cybils panelist, you can apply now through the end of August! I am trying very hard not to hold my breath until the judges are actually announced. (See my list of bookish goals.)
Towards the end of the school year, we got an email from the 4/5 literature teacher, letting us know that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was on the reading list for next year (that would be the one just about to start now), and that any parents who objected should let her know.
I told her that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a great book and brought her a small stack of new books on similar topics. (Revolution by Deborah Wiles, The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield, and A Dance like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey.) I also decided that it was time for the boy and me to listen to some in a similar vein. I’d read and loved Bud, Not Buddy in library school (dating myself here… it was very new!) but hadn’t yet gotten around to The Mighty Miss Malone, though it was on my pile for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by James Avery. Random House Listening Library, 2000.
The Great Depression is especially hard on orphans in Flint, Michigan. Bud Caldwell has been bounced around a lot since his mother passed when he was six. The orphanage keeps trying to find foster homes for him, and the homes keep sending him back. When his most recent foster home turns out to be even more cruel than he’d feared, Bud decides to go on the lam. He and his orphanage friend hope to catch the train out west to find work. But while Bud meets a sweet girl, Deza Malone, in the cardboard Hooverville outside of Flint, he doesn’t catch the train. Instead, he decides to walk across the state to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he hopes to find the man he thinks is his father – Herman E. Calloway, the leader of the band The Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!! (I really love that name!) On the way, there’s attempted car theft, a small dose of early union organizing, lots of jazz, and things not going according plan.
There are times when I feel like the Newbery committee may have missed the mark, and times when I feel they’re spot-on. This is one of the latter. A book about the Depression certainly has a lot of potential to be depressing, but Bud is anything but. He’s full of humor and pluck and has his entertaining list of rules for having a funner life and being a better liar. James Avery’s rich voice is the perfect accompaniment for the story. My son and I both enjoyed, and he was all about going straight on to the next book.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by Bahni Turpin. Random House Listening Library, 2012.
In Bud, Not Buddy, we met Deza Malone, who was with her mother and brother trying to find her father. In this more recent book, we hear the story of how the family came to be separated. Things are tough in general in Gary, Indiana – Mr. Malone can’t find work, and they don’t have money to get Deza’s cavities filled or to figure out why her older brother Jimmie has stopped growing. But Deza is excelling at her all-black school, with a best friend and a very supportive teacher. After Joe Louis is defeated by the German Max Schmelling, the whole town falls into a depression. Her father is in a boating accident that kills his best friends, and decides that he must leave to find work in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Months later, with no word from him, Mrs. Malone decides that they need to find Mr. Malone, and they set out with just what they can carry. But there’s no sign of Mr. Malone in Flint, either, which is how they end up in Flint’s Hooverville. Can Deza keep the rest of her family together until they can get back on the path to wonderful?
From the start, it’s clear that much-loved Deza with her long not-quite-understood vocabulary words is a very different character from Bud, left on his own for so many years. She’s brought beautifully to life by Bahni Turpin, who reads the whole varied cast of characters very convincingly. Even though Deza isn’t an orphan and there are still plenty of funny moment, I found The Mighty Miss Malone a harder book to read. There are just so many injustices that burn in the belly, from the Malones being evicted even though the rent is paid ahead, to Deza’s white teachers in Flint giving her Cs on her report card in spite of getting As on all her tests. The story of her father’s boating accident was disturbing and had my son asking if such a thing would really happen. I really like the family dynamic, where the adults always seemed like loving, involved parents, but there was still room for the kids to make serious contributions. Deza finds ways to hold on and works to bring her family together again even when her mother or brother temporarily gives up hope, proving that she is the Mighty Miss Malone. Curtis’s afterword explains more about the Schmelling/Louis fights and highlights the continued income gaps between whites and minorities in the U.S.
Both of these books hook readers with a combination of great characters and excitement, giving an inside view of life for those hardest hit by the Depression of the 1930s along the way. They’re wonderful, entertaining stories in their own right and recommended for everyone middle grade and up.
What are your favorite books for exploring racial injustice and/or the Great Depression?