Mississippi Morning, by Ruth Vander ZeeFrom Bogey Bear
Sometimes, a bear wants to read stories based on true things that happen.  History can be a lot of fun to learn when you read historical fiction, made-up stories that let you experience the past as if you or a friend were there.  Mississippi Burning takes us back to the days of Jim Crow and lets us see what it would be like to grow up in a family with a secret - that dad is part of the racist group the Klu Klux Klan.  Its kind of a scary book, but this is an important story.

About the Book
James William, I dont know how we could keep this place going without your help. You can go now but you be sure you dont get into any trouble. I wiped the sweat from my sunburned face and looked at Ma. She seemed to worry about trouble. I had no idea why. It was 1933 and life was good for me. Piece by piece, James Williams comfortable life begins to unravel. First, he learns that the burning of a black mans house was not accidental.

Then his fishing buddy LeRoy tells him about the hanging tree and the Klan. Though he accepts that blacks and whites cant eat at the same tables or drink from the same fountains because thats the way it is, James William cant believe that racial hatred exists in his own community until he comes face to face with a Klan member. A thought-provoking story of one boys loss of naivete in the face of harsh historical realities, Mississippi Morning will challenge young readers to question their own assumptions and confront personal decisions.

From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5–James, 12, lives in Mississippi in 1933. His father is influential in the community and owns a store in town. One day, a friend tells James that he overheard their dads discussing how a "colored preacher… got what was coming to him." James is also friends with LeRoy, an African-American boy, even though Pa feels that whites spending time with "colored folk" is not "natural." When James suggests that they fish near a particular tree, LeRoy objects, explaining, "That's where the Klan left a black man hangin' for a whole day because he did something they didn't like."

Then one morning, James's faith and pride in his father are finally and painfully shattered when he sees him running home, carrying a rifle and wearing the white robes of the Klan. Cooper's large, warm oil paintings create the perfect sense of time, place, and atmosphere. Special attention is paid to the facial expressions of the father and son whenever they appear together. The final illustration shows a tree with a frayed rope wound around its lower branches. A sad and poignant story about a period in American history, and on a more personal level, a son's disillusionment

Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* The setting of this book is Mississippi in 1933, and the drama of racist cruelty and a white child's loss of innocence is elemental. The picture-book format may keep older readers from picking up the book on their own, but the subject will spark classroom discussion even among some young teens, and there are plenty of connections to history that teachers will want to make.

Times are hard for 12-year-old James William's white family during the Depression, but he is happy at home and with his friends. He never questions the segregation around him; it's just the way things are. He knows Pa does not like "white folk spending time with colored." In Pa's hardware's store, there's talk of burning a black preacher's house, and when James William goes fishing with LeRoy, the black sharecropper's son, they go where no one sees them. LeRoy won't fish near the "hanging tree," and he talks about the horrific violence of the Klan, close to his home. Cooper's illustrations extend the stark contrast.

Glowing, softly toned oil paintings show the beautiful smiling James William in an almost idyllic setting. Then there's the shock of the Klan riding wildly across a double-page spread. At sunrise one morning, the world lit by a rosy glow, James William sees a hooded Klan creature running down the road near his home. The hood comes off, and the boy sees his pa. Things will never be the same.

"I still loved my pa. But I never really looked into his eyes again. And he never really looked into mine," says the boy, with the unforgettable accompanying picture showing father and son working in the store with their backs to one another. There is drama in both the history and the moral choices of a child forced to confront the failure of adult mentors who have always kept him safe and taught him right from wrong.

For more context, use this picture book with Mildred Taylor's Newbery Medal winner, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), a novel also set in Mississippi during the Depression but told from the viewpoint of a young African American girl in a family that has a shocking encounter with Klan violence. Or with Leon Walter Tillage's Leon's Story (1997), a quiet yet disturbing memoir about growing up black in the Jim Crow South, where constant racial harassment included the terror of the Klan.

The idea of a child's traumatic encounter with adult evil reaches beyond a particular time and place. Andrew Clement's The Jacket (2002), set in the present, is a good choice for middle readers. Following an ugly confrontation with a black boy in school, sixth-grader Phil begins to question the segregation around him. Why are all his neighbors white? Is his father a racist?

Vander Zee's book can be also connected with the Holocaust curriculum. In M. E. Kerr's classic Gentlehands (1978), for sixth grade and up, teenage Buddy learns that the grandfather he has come to know and admire is a Nazi war criminal. Some older students may want to read Doris Lessing's brilliant short story "The Old Chief Mshlanga," in which a young South African white girl growing up privileged and apart comes of age when she suddenly sees a black man as a person and realizes what has been done to his world. Her family's farm was taken from the black people who once lived there. I included that story in my anthology Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa (1988).

For many young people, coming-of-age involves the discovery of weakness, failure, or betrayal in adult authority. But what if that discovery is of cruelty, even murder, and what if the community sanctions the evil? Without diatribe or heavy message, Mississippi Morning and these other stories bring urgent politics into personal life.

Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author
Ruth Vander Zee, teacher and author, says that Mississippi Morning was inspired by a sermon she heard. "The story struck a chord with me because I was raised with certain prejudices that at one time or another were comfortable or unquestioned," she says. Ruth has written a curriculum for young adults and a children’s book, Erika’s Story (Creative Editions), which tells of a young girl’s rescue from the Holocaust. Ruth is a resident of Miami, Florida.

About the Illustrator
Floyd Cooper has illustrated many books for young readers, several of which he also wrote. He began drawing at the age of three and has been illustrating books for children since 1988. Floyd earned Coretta Scott King Honors for several titles: Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, Meet Danitra Brown (both HarperCollins), and I Have Heard of a Land (HarperTrophy). He received the inaugural New Jersey Center for the Book Award in 2002 and also gained recognition from the Society of Illustrators and the American Library Association. Floyd Cooper lives in Gillette, New Jersey.