Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Carole Boston Weatherford, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Nonfiction,  Feb. 1, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Tulsa Race Riot, African Americans, Greenwood, Racism, Violence, History 

Opening: “Once upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma, prospectors struck it rich in the oil fields. The wealth created jobs, raised buildings, and attracted newcomers from far and wide, seeking fortune and a fresh start.”

Publisher Synopsis:

In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to a thriving African American community. The Greenwood district had it’s own school system, libraries, churches, restaurants, post office, movie theaters, and more. But all that would change in the course of two terrible, UNSPEAKABLE DAYS.

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of armed white Tulsans attacked Greenwood. They looted homes and businesses and burned them to the ground as Black families fled. The police did nothing to protect Greenwood, and as many as three hundred African Americans were killed. More than eight thousand were left homeless.

News of the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history — was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years.

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and acclaimed illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all.  May 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre. 

Why I like this book:

Carole Boston Weatherford begins the story of Greenwood on a celebratory note as she eases readers into the story. Weatherford writes in free verse, which highlights the community pride and softens the violence at the end.  

The setting occupies the first two-thirds of the book. Each page turn begins with “Once upon a time…” and focuses on the beauty and prosperity that a thriving Black community achieves. Segregation laws call for separate neighborhoods, and train tracks divide the Black and white communities. Ten thousand people live in a thirty-five-square block area. Many Black businesses are opened along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue. The thriving community is self-sufficient and becomes known as the “Black Wall Street.” There are restaurants, grocery stores, furriers, shops, schools, libraries, a hospital, churches, hotel, post office, and railroad and street cars coaches for Black families. The community has 15 doctors, and many lawyers and prominent businessmen. And there are two Black-owned newspapers. The community is totally self-sufficient. Such an amazing achievement for the families who call Greenwood home.

The author introduces the conflict that begins to arise in 1921, when disgruntled white Tulsa residents don’t  appreciate the fact that African Americans can achieve success and wealth. With tensions rising, all it takes is a white female elevator operator accusing a Black man of assault, and violence erupts. Weatherford masterfully moves her readers into the heartbreaking events that follow in an age-appropriate manner.       

Floyd Cooper’s breathtaking oil illustrations show a community of happy children and content adults going about their daily lives. He captures the hustle and bustle of a busy and booming town, and the pride of all who live there. Toward the end of the book is a double spread with a dark page that alerts readers that something is about to change. Cooper’s artwork contributes significantly in the telling of the story and ends with hope. Make sure you check out the  endpaper photograph of a town burned to the ground.

Resources: The author’s and illustrator’s notes include their personal relationship with the story. There is also additional historical information, explanation about the massacre’s longtime erasure from history, historical photographs, and pictures of memorials. Cooper grew up in Tulsa and heard the stories from his grandfather. Make sure you listen to Floyd Cooper’s YouTube comments below. 

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of numerous books, including Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, which received a Caldecott Honor; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, which received a Caldecott Honor and a Sibert Honor; and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, which won a Caldecott Honor and an NAACP Image Award. Her writing covers such topics as jazz and photography, as well as slavery and segregation eras. The daughter of educators, she has a passion for rescuing events and figures from obscurity by documenting American history. She lives in North Carolina. 

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations for The Blacker the Berry and won Coretta Scott King honors for Brown Honey in Broom Wheat Tea, Meet Danitra Brown, and I Have Heard of a Land. He has illustrated numerous books, including Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he first heard about the Tulsa Race Massacre from his grandfather, who survived it as a young man. Floyd now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two sons.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors

*Reviewed from a library copy.

These Hands

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Margaret H. Mason, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Fiction, 2010 & 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: African-Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Hands, Grandfathers, Family Relationships, Prejudice, Tolerance

Opening: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands / used to tie a triple bowline knot I / in three seconds flat?  / Well, I can still help a young fellow / learn to ties his shoes / — yes, I can.”

Synopsis: Joseph’s grandfather could do most anything with his hands. He could play the piano, shuffle cards, throw a curve ball and hit a line drive ball. Despite all the many wonderful things he could do with his hands, he could not touch the bread dough and or bake the bread at the Wonder Bread factory. He was only allowed to sweep the floors, work the line and load the trucks.

Why I like this book:

Margaret Mason’s has written an inspiring intergenerational story about a boy and his grandfather. This  compelling story is about the discrimination the grandfather experienced as an African-American working in a Wonder Bread factory.

The text is written in free verse with a refrain from the grandfather that heralds the beginning of each double-page spread: “Look at these hands, Joseph. / Did you know these hands used to…”  The tension builds when the grandfather painfully tells Joseph what he was not allowed to do with his hands at the factory. Hands alone were the victims of the prejudice. Hands joined together signed petitions, protested, prayed and overcame the prejudice. What a powerful metaphor!

This little-known story is based on the true stories of bakery union workers at the Wonder Bread factory in the 1950s and early 1960s. Victory was achieved for African-Americans during the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It was told to the author by her friend, Joe, and after his death she decided to write his story.

Floyd Cooper’s larger than life illustrations are rendered in oil and beautifully compliment the author’s lyrical storytelling.  The muted browns tones are warm, expressive, lively and celebratory. You want to spend time studying each painting.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end. This is an excellent classroom book for Black History Month. Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. You may be surprised with your discovery. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Visit  Margaret Mason’s website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Juneteenth for Mazie

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Juneteenth for Mazie

Floyd Cooper, Author and Illustrator

Capstone for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan.1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Juneteenth, Celebrating freedom from slavery, Passing down family history

Opening: Mazie wants to play outside, but it is too late. “It’s getting dark, Mazie. It’s time to stay inside.”

Synopsis: Mazie is restless because it’s bedtime and she can’t go where she wants, have what she wants or do what she wants. Her father tells her about a big celebration she will attend the next day — Juneteenth. “We will celebrate the day your great-great-great-grandpa Mose, crossed into liberty.” Grandpa Mose works hard in the cotton fields along with many slaves in Galveston, Texas, until that joyful day in 1865, when word of their emancipation finally reaches the slaves. They celebrate and dance into the night. After freedom arrives, Grandpa Mose and many others continue to work and are paid, but equality is still a long way off.  Mazie learns from her father that many African-Americans struggle to stand as equals with white people. Each generation carries that dream to improve their lives. Now it’s Mazie’s turn to celebrate who she is and to remember the accomplishments of her ancestors.

Why I like this book:

  • Floyd Cooper’s Juneteenth for Mazie beautifully illustrates and celebrates a memorable day in American history. His picture book about June 19, or Juneteenth, will encourage a new generation of children to celebrate, ask questions and remember. This year will  mark the 150th anniversary of that auspicious day.
  • This is a lovely saga about Mazie, her family and their ancestral relationship to Juneteenth. Her father narrates this touching story about Grandpa Mose who “worked in fields that stretched all the way to sunset.” He tells Mazie about her family legacy, the joy of freedom, the struggle for the right to vote, the desegregation of schools, of forgiveness, achievement and celebration.
  • With June 19 approaching, this is a perfect book for teachers to integrate into their lesson plans. The text and writing style will encourage children to love history and want to know more about their own family histories.
  • Cooper’s captivating oil illustrations are in shades of warm browns and yellows and give the book a nostalgic feel.  The faces of each character captures the intensity of the struggle, the joy of freedom, the determination of future generations, and celebration of milestones made.

Resources and Activities: Do you know your family history? Talk with your parents and grandparents and ask them questions about what they may know about your family history. Record their stories or write information about your history in a journal. Browse through family photo albums. Ask your parents to help you draw your own family tree.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.