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Mississippi Morning Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 13, 2004


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Hardcover, Bargain Price, August 13, 2004

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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

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 and up
  • Grade Level: 2 and up
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (August 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802852114
  • ASIN: B00CNL5QC6
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,563,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ruth has written four awrd-winning children's books, "Erika's Story," "Mississippi Morning," "Eli Remembers," and "Always With You." Her school presentations are widely acclaimed as being engaging and instructive.

Most recently Ruth has authored a book on spirituality for women "Woman Meets Jesus: How Jesus Encourages, Empowers, and Equips Women on Their Personal Journey of Faith."

As a pastor's wife, she has welcomed thousands of people into her home. As an author, she travels, talking with students and teachers about her books and the writing process. Ruth lives in Miami, Florida with her husband Vern.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By WALTRINA KIRKLAND-MULLINS on July 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The seeds of racism planted by adults impact children in ways that in time confront us, unnerve us, and ultimately challenge us to embrace the human family. This focus is candidly portrayed in Ruth Vander Zee's historical fiction work, MISSISSIPPI MORNING. Masterfully illustrated by Floyd Cooper, this children's book takes a glimpse at life in a Mississippi town as seen through the eyes of James William, a white youngster. The story takes place during 1933, a time when Jim Crow laws and "that's-just-the-way-it-is between-blacks-and whites" attitudes prevailed. James William is friends with Leroy, a black child. While fishing together on a comfy-cozy summer afternoon, James William is unnerved by his fishing buddy's unwillingness to sit next to what seems to be an ordinary tree. "That's the hanging tree," Leroy confides, telling James William about the Ku Klux Klan and harsh, often untold realities faced by blacks. Convinced that race hatred does not exist in his hometown, James William's life takes a turn when he comes face to face with a Klan member in a place least expected. This engaging work accompanied by Cooper's thought-provoking illustrations can be used to spark healthy discussion regarding race relations. A springboard for understanding and healing, MISSISSIPPI MORNING is a must-have item for home, school, and families across cultures!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Weaver on May 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a very powerful book, the truth is there and like all kids need to know, their parents aren't perfect and this book sheds light on a shamful time in our history. I liked this book, my young children were saddened by the father's actions.
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Format: Hardcover
It is the story of a boy's experience when he finds out that the burning of black man's home wasn't an accident. Then his fishing buddy tells him about the hanging tree and the KKK.
It's a thought provoking story of a "boy's loss of naivete" in the face of realities of 1933 and Jim Crow violence and prejudice, within his own family. It can help to question one's own assumptions.
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