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.

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Racial identify, Blended family, Family Relationships, Divorce, Stepfamilies, Profiling, Violence

Publisher Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week. One week she’s Isabella living with her lawyer dad, his girlfriend Anastasia and her son Darren, in a fancy Cincinnati house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her waitress mom and her boyfriend John-Mark living in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?”

And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Draper boldly takes on challenging topics in her new middle grade novel, Blended. Convincingly penned, it is a thoughtful commentary on divorce, family pressure, racism, identity, police violence and socioeconomic class issues.

Draper’s tackles a timely subject that is rarely addressed in middle grade books — how do biracial children feel about their mixed identity? Draper offers a vivid portrayal of Izzy/Isabella’s emotional landscape. Is she white or is she black? Which box does she check when she fills out paper work? Her first encounter with racism is at school when a student leaves a “noose” in her best friend’s (Imani) locker. It intensifies Izzy’s feelings and she struggles to define her identity. Draper’s first person narration works very well because Izzy’s voice is strong, honest and candid.

Izzy, a talented pianist who is preparing for a major recital, has another dilemma. She wants to really know what “home”  feels like. With her divorced parents competing for her time and attention, she is torn between two worlds fraught with bickering. It reaches a boiling point when both parents decide to get married and pick the same day for their weddings. When her mother is late for their “exchange day near the mall,” her father calls the police. Panicked they are going to arrest her mother, Izzy takes off running. Her desperate act knocks some sense into her parents who realize their selfish impact on Izzy’s life. Readers will identify with Izzy’s journey to seek wholeness. Draper challenges readers with the big question about what is home.

Blended is an exceptional story with a realistic plot and characters that will stay with you long after you put it down. Blended belongs in every school library.

Resources:  The publisher has included a Reading Group Guide available for classroom use.

*Library review copy.

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