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THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 8 years, 2 months ago

5 December 2011 THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK by Kristin Levine, Putnam, January 2012, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-399-25644-8

 

"Oh I'd be in my stride, a king down to the core.

I could roar a way I never roared before

And then I'd...RRWWWWWWOOOOF! And roar some more."

-- The Cowardly Lion, "If I Only Had the Nerve"

 

"Ever since the Soviets sent up that Sputnik satellite last year, I've been studying really hard.  Maybe someday I'll study mathematics at college and become a rocket scientist.  Only thing is, when our teacher told us last year that our country needs more of us to study math, I think she meant more boys.  I watched all of those talks on TV about the satellite really closely, and I didn't see any experts who were women.

"That evening we were watching our brand-new, 1958 RCA, 21-inch mahogany television console.  It was so large, we had to move an armchair into the garage to make space for it in the living room.  With rabbit ears on top, it got three whole channels.

"Governor Faubus was on television, giving some sort of talk about Southern pride and communists and, okay, I tried to pay attention, but it didn't really make much sense." 

  

THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK is a great story about a quiet and fearful, middle school girl in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958.  Behind that timidity, twelve year-old Marlee Nisbett is, in fact, an exceptional math student.  This fall, she will slowly but steadily leave behind her painfully-shy demeanor thanks to Liz, an outspoken girl who enrolls in Marlee's school and becomes her first true friend.  But Liz abruptly ceases attending Marlee's school when it is discovered that she, Liz, is actually a light-complexioned person of color who has been "passing" for white.

 

Many know the story of the Little Rock Nine enduring the abuse that resulted from their being the first young people of color to attend a "white" high school in that city.  THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK takes place during the school year following that one.  What happened in the months leading up the following school year was:

 

"June 21, 1958 Federal District Judge Harry Lemley grants the school board a delay in integrating until January 1961.  The NAACP appeals.

Aug. 18, 1958 The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the Lemley delay order, and the school board appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Aug. 1958 The state legislature passes a law allowing [Governor Orval] Faubus to close public schools to avoid integration and to lease the closed schools to private school corporations.

Sept. 12, 1958 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that integration in Little Rock must continue.  Governor Faubus orders all four Little Rock high schools closed."

-- from the time line in REMEMBER LITTLE ROCK (2009) by Paul Robert Walker (http://richiespicks.pbworks.com/REMEMBER-LITTLE-ROCK)

 

Little Rock's high schools will remain closed this entire school year amidst the political maneuvering.  There will be tension and violence. 

 

 

In THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK, amidst these historic events, Marlee and Liz's attempt to maintain their friendship after the discovery of Liz's identity is potentially dangerous.  

 

"For a while it seemed that with the high schools closed, there'd be no football too.  But the public outcry was so great, the governor called the superintendent and told him to start up the football program again, school or no school.  Daddy nearly turned purple when he heard this news.  'They'll let their kids go without an education, but Little Rock won't stand for no football?'

"Mother shrugged."

 

One thing that makes THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK such an interesting read is that Marlee's parents are both Little Rock public school educators (her father at a junior high school; her mother at a high school), and they have such polar opposite beliefs about school integration.  This, coupled with the fact that Marlee has a brother in college and a sister in high school, results in a situation where the politics and social tension surrounding the fight for integrated schools becomes an ever-present issue in the family's daily life.

 

This family life includes a maid from the black community who becomes an important confidant and advisor to Marlee.

 

Marlee has spent her young life being too scared to speak.  This year, with the situation so intolerable, and thanks to a real friend (and thanks to being a real friend), Marlee will find her voice and dare to raise it against the idiocy.  

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
Moderatorhttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/
http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php

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