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on December 3, 2019 at 6:48:20 am

3 December 2019 KENT STATE by Deborah Wiles, Scholastic Press, April 2020, 144p., ISBN: 978-1-338-35628-1


“What if you knew her

And found her dead on the ground

How can you run when you know?”

Neil Young, “Ohio” (1970)


[Mike] “B.D. This is crazy. Why on earth do you want to go to Vietnam?”

[B.D] “I’m glad you asked. I made a list of the reasons why.”

[B.D.] “‘I am going to Vietnam a) for Mom, b) for apple pie, and c) so that my roommate Mike can grow up strong and happy in a great land free of Communism and tyranny.’”

-- Doonesbury (2/1/72)







They were not!

We were patriots!

We had the right to assemble.

The right to protest.

Our parents taught us this.

They were auto workers,

meat cutters, pipe fitters,

truck drivers, teachers, nurses,

stay-at-home moms.

They taught us to love our country, too.






Our country hated us.”


Four dead in Ohio. For me, the Kent State killings took place near the end of ninth grade. Until then, I’d been a concerned young observer, reading the news and soaking in the nightly news films of the fighting and the flag-draped coffins returning from Vietnam. 


Kent State contributed to my becoming a participant. It was the talk around school that month, and I took part in a number of so-called Teach-Ins that were organized on the front lawn of the campus. 


By the following school year, encouraged by a young teacher of draft age, I began to speak out. I joined schoolmates and parents and neighbors, riding a bus to our nation’s capital and participating in the National Peace Action Coalition’s massive April 24, 1971 March on Washington. Speakers at the rally that followed the march included Coretta Scott King and Ralph Albernathy; Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and Barbara Dane; John Kerry, Bella Abzug, Vance Hartke; and others.


It was a pivotal time in what the Vietnamese dubbed “The American War.” It was a very big deal for me. And the flashpoint was Kent State.


In advance of the 50th anniversary of the massacre, Deborah Wiles has created an amazing work of young people’s literature. I’m calling it a performance piece.




KENT STATE features numerous unnamed narrators describing and debating what happened during the days leading up to and including May 4, 1970 in Kent, Ohio. They also recount personal details about the lives and deaths of the four murdered students, Allison, Sandy, Jeffrey, and Bill. 


The unnamed narrators are each given a unique font and font size so we come to recognize them through that device. The narrators have varying perspectives and reactions that sometimes agree but are most often at odds with one another as they recall and characterize the events at Kent State. 


In addition to being a riveting read, KENT STATE is the perfect book for an informal English class read-aloud in which students each perform one of the many narrators in the book. It will also work well as a more formal production: performed in the studio for posting on YouTube; performed as a live radio play; or staged before an audience. I’m going to keep an eye on YouTube in the hope of eventually seeing this happen somewhere.


And how does this relate to today’s young people? It’s all about the First Amendment and how far its protections extend. The protesters at Kent State believed that they were exercising their Constitutional rights: freedom of speech; freedom of assembly. These are the most precious of freedoms and it’s essential for each generation to protect them.


Could Kent State happen again? 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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