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Freedom Summer reading

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 grassroots campaign to register black voters in Mississippi — the state with the lowest percentage of black voters registered and a history of disenfranchisement through intimidation and violence. These books about that significant and bloody summer are all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide.


scattergood_glory beProtagonist Glory doesn’t understand what’s happening in her Mississippi hometown during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 in Augusta Scattergood’s novel Glory Be. Difficult and changing relationships with her sister Jesslyn and friend Frankie mirror the swirling upheaval. The hotly debated closing of the segregated community pool both serves as a snapshot of the tumultuous era and illustrates Glory’s realizations about the power of her own convictions. (Scholastic, 2012; intermediate)

wiles_freedom summerIn 1964, two young friends — Joe, who is white, and John Henry, who is black — find the town pool being filled with tar to avoid enforced integration. Their disappointment is palpable — and galvanizing. John Henry decides to enter a previously forbidden store, and the friends join arms and go in together. Deborah Wiles’s text for picture book Freedom Summer, though concise, is full of nuance, and illustrator Jerome Lagarrigue’s oil paintings shimmer with the heat of the South in summer. (Atheneum/Schwartz, 2001; new ed. Atheneum, 2014; primary)

wiles_revolutionIn Revolution [Sixties Trilogy], also by Deborah Wiles, twelve-year-old Sunny Fairchild (who is white) tells of Greenwood, Mississippi during Freedom Summer: a town turned upside-down, in need of change but resistant to it. As in the previous volume, Countdown, a “documentary novel” format intersperses all manner of documents with Sunny’s first-person narrative and occasional chapters narrated by black teen Raymond Bulliss. It’s an ambitious, heady endeavor that succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of that pivotal and eventful summer, with the documents offering a broader context. An author’s note and a solid bibliography round out this innovative work commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer. (Scholastic, 2014; intermediate, middle school)



rubin_freedom summer_170x205Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin provides a useful and informative look at the event’’s organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. Rubin conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by e-mail, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts — along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. (Holiday, 2014; middle school, high school)

mitchell_freedom summer murders_170x227For The Freedom Summer Murders, author Don Mitchell conducted a number of interviews with close friends and family members of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Fascinating biographical sketches of the three men, based on these interviews, give readers insight into their deep commitment to social justice. Mitchell also provides a thorough account of the search for their bodies, and of the years of investigation that culminated in the 2005 trial of one of the murderers (at that time eighty years old). This book will grab you from its opening paragraphs and won’t let go until justice is served. (Scholastic, 2014; middle school, high school)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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