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31 March 2023 HOW DO YOU SPELL UNFAIR? MACNOLIA COX AND THE NATIONAL SPELLING BEE by Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison, ill., Candlewick, April 2023, 40p., ISBN: 978-1-5362-1554-0


Can you spell p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c?


“The first time that Black and white spellers competed nationally, the white grown-ups were sore losers. In 1908’s National Education Association Spelling Bee, fourteen-year-old Marie Bolden, a Black girl from Ohio, led her team to defeat competitors from other cities around the country, including the all-white team from New Orleans.

A writer for the New Orleans Picayune newspaper claimed that Marie–who correctly spelled four hundred words in writing and another one hundred words orally–had bested white spellers because they were distracted by her presence. Angry white readers wrote to the Picayune calling for the school superintendent to be fired for putting white students in such an embarrassing situation.”

– from the Foreword


HOW DO YOU SPELL UNFAIR? is the tale of MacNolia Cox who, as an eighth grader in 1936, became a local heroine when she won the Akron, Ohio spelling bee. This led to her traveling to Washington, D.C., where she competed in the finals of that year’s National Spelling Bee. To prepare for the competition, she memorized one hundred thousand words.


(The top of the range for most well-educated adults is around 50,000 words.)


Crafted by winners of multiple awards for their work together and apart, the text and illustrations combine to powerfully depict the humiliating conditions that MacNolia encountered during that trip to our nation’s capital. MacNolia had to ride in a segregated train car and was forced to stay at someone’s home, since the hotel in which all the white competitors were staying was segregated. Another Black girl made it to the nationals that year. When it was time to compete:


“The two Black girls had to enter the ballroom through a back door and were seated at a card table apart from the other spellers.

Can you spell racism?



The vivid picture of racial discrimination portrayed by this moving true story will make for a great starting point in helping middle graders grasp the centuries-long history of racism in the U.S. It will also give readers some terrific words to look up, learn about, and maybe even learn to spell correctly. 


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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