It's 93 degrees here today, and I just finished Yankee Girl, by Mary Ann Rodman, at our local pool. Coincidentally, this book is set in the deep South, during the sweltering summer of 1964. Based on the author's own youth, Alice Ann Moxley and her family are moving to Mississippi from Chicago for her father's FBI career. Her father is assigned to investigate and protect civil rights leaders during the turbulent time of school integration. Alice finds that making friends in the South is more difficult than any of the other places she has lived. She slowly discovers the "Southern" code of addressing adults, ("Maam," "Sir,") of addressing other kids, (not "guys, " but "y'all,") football obsession and race relations.
Alice finds a friend two doors down, Jeb, and his older sister, Pammie. Together, Jeb and Pammie try to protect Alice from the powerful cheerleader clique and Alice's own innocence. Jeb explains to Alice, "I know you don't know no better, so I'll tell you. First off, you don't introduce yourself to nigras." Once school begins, however, Jeb has given her strict instructions not to talk to him at school.
Alice's school is one of the first five Jackson schools that is integrated. Valerie Taylor, daughter of the famous Rev. Claymore Taylor, is in Alice's class. Alice tries to befriend Valerie and is rejected by her as well. Valerie says, "Just 'cause I go to school with white kids don't mean I hafta talk to them. I never wanted to go to this sorry old school anyway." Alice discovers that she and Valerie are very much alike. They both worry about their fathers' safety, and they are both outcasts at school. After being somewhat accepted by the cheerleaders, Alice realizes that she will have to deny Valerie's equality to keep her new friends.
Without giving away the ending, Yankee Girl is a fascinating novel about a revolutionary period of our history. There are several mentions of violence, murders, and bombings, but no graphic descriptions, mostly reprinted headlines. Alice learns about Emmett Till and has dreams about him. Therefore, this Caudill Award nominee is recommended for older children, mature pre-teens and up. Rodman does an excellent job of making good examples of the heroes of the time, such as Alice's parents.
Recently, I read another great summertime book, Honus & Me, by Dan Gutman, also a Caudill Award Nominee. Honus & Me is the story of baseball misfit, Joe Stoshack (Stosh) and the Honus Wagner baseball card that he "finds" while cleaning out his elderly neighbor's attic. Now I had never heard of Honus Wagner, but when I asked my husband if he was a real character, (silly me) I found out that not only was he real, but one of baseball's greatest players. Stosh tries to get the antique card validated, and is nearly robbed. He finds out that another Honus Wagner card sold to Wayne Gretsky for half a million dollars in 1991 (true story). The reason the card is so rare is that Honus refused to have his image used to sell tobacco products, after several cards had already been circulated (also true). Stosh also discovers that he has the power to bring time travel to 1909 and to bring Honus into present time, merely by holding the card. He learns much about baseball, history, and being the underdog during his journeys.
This was a fun read, recommended for all proficient readers. The only slight problem I have with the book is that like so many novels for children, Stosh's parents are divorced. His mother and father disagree about whether or not Stosh owns the card, or if he should return it to his neighbor. It all comes out right in the end though.
Honus & Me is the first of three books starring Stosh and his amazing ability. Gutman's other titles are Babe & Me and Jackie & Me.