Monday, September 7, 2015

Freedom Summer

It's Time for a Revolution.
by Hilde Garcia

Deborah Wiles' documentary novel, Revolution.

What. A. Book!

Deborah Wiles was one of the key note speakers I had the pleasure to hear at this year's SCBWI conference in L. A.  She was this year's SCBWI Golden Kite winner for fiction.  Her book, Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy), was also a 2014 National Book Award finalist.

It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississipppi, are saying.  All Sunny knows is that people from u north are coming to help people register to vote.  They're calling it Freedom Summer.

Meanwhile, Sunny can't help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmothers, a new bother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe.  And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool-- where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.

So as I read Ms. Wiles' book, my 8 year old self couldn't help feel like Sunny, confused about everything that was happening, asking questions no one was willing to answer.

It made me think about Tisha, my best friend from 2nd through 4th grade.

Tisha on the right, me on the left,
with our amazing 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Flynn.
Miami Seaquarium, 1976.
Funny, I don't remember her last name.  I do remember, she and I were the only two 2nd graders that could scale the metal monkey bars without touching the ground, we could jump rope better than most 3rd graders, that we both liked cherry flavored stuff, and that we both loved to read.

And then she disappeared, after 4th grade, to a school in a different neighborhood.

"Why can't Tisha come to school in Hialeah?"

"Because her new school is closer to her neighborhood."

 It was 1976, Miami. And segregation was still being practiced, only I didn't know it.

Ms. Wiles uses stories and images to envelop us into the tapestry of 1964 Mississippi.  Her story has parallel narratives-- one black, one white-- about Freedom Summer.  Her book places non-fiction quotes, articles, editorials, biographical sketches, and even songs throughout a fictional account of that summer's events as told through the eyes of Sunny and Raymond, two kids from 1964.

Even though her novel takes place during Freedom Summer and I was not even born yet, I remember 1976, a segregated school, and a best friend that was forever lost to me because of the color of her skin.

Revolution is book two of her Sixties Trilogy.  Her first book, Countdown, focused on 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I love how one of the main characters from Countdown plays prominently in Revolution.

She is currently working on her third book in the trilogy.  You can check on her progress on her page.

The characters in Revolution are complex. I love reading a book that has multiple perspectives and story tellers.  I feel immersed in the genre through the photographs, quotes, and historical facts of that tumultuous time.  The connection to history from that time period and current issues of today really struck a chord with me.

And they should, for they affected me in 1976, and I am sure continue to affect some today.

This documentary novel is a great way to get a reader zapped into the story, its sounds, its people, and the place.  I teach 5th and 6th graders, and I am planning to read this book to them a loud and really show them how it was different and how, at times, it is still the same.

In the author's notes, Ms. Wiles says:

"At heart, Revolution is a story about what it means to be a citizen of this country, to live in a democracy, to be a member of a family, to nurture your friendships, to look beyond what you understand, to ask questions, and to tend to your community, your own backyard.  

What are your responsibilities? What must you do to empower yourself and others?

Your vote is your voice.  

It is your most powerful weapon of choice.  

It can change the world."

Dr. Dorothy Height, the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,
as referred to by President Obama, in the background
while Dr. King gives his speech 1963.
In 1964, black Mississipians couldn't register to vote.  In 2014, 28% of Mississippi's state legislature was black, and there are scores of black mayors, police officers, and county officials.

She quotes U. S. Congressman, John Lewis, former chairman of the SNCC and tireless civil rights activist, as saying, "If it hadn't been for the veterans of Freedom Summer, there would be no Barack Obama."

Your vote is your voice.

And the voices spoke in 1964. And they haven't been silenced since.
Dr. Dorothy Height with President Obama, 2008

An exceptional documentary novel that I highly recommend.

What experience do you remember?


  1. Ah ye good olden days of yore. In 1976, I was at Winton Jr. High. All I thought about were girls, monster movies, girls, special effects movies, girls, ancient astronauts and girls.

    Hmm...I smell my next blog.


  2. Looking forward to your next blog. My best friend in 2nd grade was black. No one said anything about that to either of us. Then we moved to Capetown in the fall of 1954. Huge shock. I had no idea segregation existed.

  3. Great posy, Hilde! I **SO** wanted to buy that book at the conference, but my funds are extremely limited these days.


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