"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reading: A Time and Place Experience

I was crafting a blog post about the books I considered Newbery Contenders, entitled Reading in the Running.  I was writing about why specific books resonated with me.  Was it the writing, the character, setting and plot or the time and place in which I had read each one. I never got to finish.

In the midst of this post, my father experienced a brain injury and was in the hospital for five days. Life was put on hold. (Wonderful spoiler alert: He returned home this weekend and is well on the road to recovery!)

Upon getting the call from my mother, what did I do?  Grab a book, my smart phone and some very odd clothing choices, and then drove the two hours north. That book that I grabbed?  Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine.  
My parents were both very active in the Civil Rights Movement, so I knew this would be a good time to read this book.  My mother left three very young children at home to complete the march to Selma. Her own mother and those in the community questioned her actions, but my mother stood firm.  As for my father, he was in many places: Philadelphia, Mississippi; Jackson, Mississippi; Medger Evers' funeral; the March on Washington; and Selma to name a few.

Given this history, I knew the book would resonate with them.  So there we sat...and read. We stopped and remembered events during the Civil Rights Movement.  We talked about the characters in the book.  The nurses even got involved in the story and the conversation.  At a time when the future was uncertain, this book transcended our worry and kept us all sane.

I loved the book. I could identify with Marlee.  I grew up in an area called the "salad of Boston" and we would do some pretty foolish things in the name of equality and justice.  I thought the characters in the story represented the diverse views and perspectives surrounding the issue and that Kristin Levine did a fine job of capturing the muddled emotions surrounding the Civil Rights Movement.  

Check out Anita Silvey's wonderful write up of The Lions of Little Rock on her Website: Children's Book-A-Day Almanac.  One of my students wrote this about the book last December.

I was hoping The Lions of Little Rock would be recognized in some way. But maybe this is it.  Maybe this is the recognition. Reader by reader, each book makes its mark.  Recognition, like a Newbery can change a life, but what of those experiences authors never hear of?  The experiences where the book transforms, heals, or inspires?   So, inspired by Marlee, I will share my experience, "Because all the words in the world won't do much good if they're just rattling around in your head."

Will I forget this book? I don't think so. Will I ever be able to separate this book from this experience?  I don't think so. Maybe the reading experience is always about the time in which we read the book, the place where we read it,  and the people with whom we read it.

Thank you Kristin Levine for this well-researched, beautifully-written book.  Marlee, Liz, and Betty Jean and a host of other characters are now part of my literary family.

World Read Aloud Day is March 6th.  If this story resonated with you, READ IT FORWARD by heading on over to LitWorld's Website and signing up.  Help make literacy a reality for all. 


  1. Aw, thanks so much for your kind words. I hope your father continues to do well and recover.


    Kristin Levine

    1. Thank you. I love the book and will place it eagerly in my students' hands! Check out this student's reaction to your book: http://reederama.blogspot.com/2012/12/student-review-lions-of-little-rock.html