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Freedom Summer Paperback – January 1, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, Wiles's affecting debut children's book about two boysAone white and the other African-AmericanAunderscores the bittersweet aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Rather than opening public pools, roller rinks and shops to African-Americans, many towns and private owners boarded up the doors. Wiles delivers her message incisively through the credible voices of her young characters, narrator Joe and his best friend, John Henry, whose mother works as housekeeper for Joe's family. Joe and John spend many hours swimming together in the creek because John is not allowed in the public pool, so on the day the Civil Rights Act is enacted, they visit the town pool together, excited about diving for nickels in the clear water. Instead they find a work crewAincluding John Henry's older brotherAfilling in the pool with asphalt. "John Henry's voice shakes. 'White folks don't want colored folks in their pool.' " The tale ends on an upbeat if tenuous note, as the boys walk together through the front door of a once-segregated shop to buy ice pops. Lagarrigue's (My Man Blue) softly focused, impressionistic paintings capture the lazy feel of summer days and affirm the bond between the two boys. The artist's close-up portraits of the boys' faces, as well as the body language of other characters, reinforce the narrative's powerful emotional pitch. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ages 5-8. "John Henry Waddell is my best friend," begins the narrator of this story, set during a summer of desegregation in the South. John Henry is black and the narrator is white, so the boys swim together at the creek, rather than at the whites-only town pool, and the narrator buys the ice-cream at the segregated store. When new laws mandate that the pool, and everything else, must desegregate, the boys rejoice, until the town fills the pool with tar in protest and the narrator tries to see this town, "through John Henry's eyes." The boy's voice, presented in punchy, almost poetic sentences, feels overly romanticized, even contrived in places. It's the illustrations that stun. In vibrantly colored, broad strokes, Lagarrigue, who illustrated Nikki Grimes' My Man Blue (1999), paints riveting portraits of the boys, particularly of John Henry, that greatly increase the story's emotional power. Beautiful work by an illustrator to watch. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: AD460L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Aladdin; Reprint edition (January 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068987829X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689878299
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ulyyf on July 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very evocative book about racism and hatred. Here's this boy, excited to play in the pool for the first time - and he can't. The city was so upset about integration that they filled the pool with concrete rather than let black people swim there. Terrible.

This book is realistic, and we can always use more books about history. It's well-written, I like the artwork.

But...

See, now, I have to ask this. Here's this book about integration, about hatred, about racism. It features a white boy and his black best friend. Best friend's big brother makes an appearance, too. The best friend is the one who feels heartbroken, he's the one who's suffering here...

So why is the white kid the narrator?

Is this story of friendship, and of hatred, really his story to tell? Why couldn't John Henry have told his own story?
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Format: Hardcover
Joe and John Henry are best friends. They both love to play marbles, eat ice pops and swim in Fiddler's Creek. And, when they grow up, they're both planning to be firemen. But as Joe tells it there is one big difference between them... "John Henry's skin is the color of browned butter" and "my skin is the color of the pale moths that dance around the porch light at night." In the early 1960's, there are some things they just can't do together. John Henry's not allowed to swim in the town pool or buy his ice pops at Mr Mason's General Store. But all that is about to change. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act becomes law and segregation has to end. The town's swimming pool will be open to everyone, together and John Henry and his family will be able to shop at Mr Masons. The boys are so excited they can hardly sleep and race to the town pool extra early so that they can be there when it opens. But instead of cool blue water, they find workmen filling the pool with asphalt..... Deborah Wiles has written a gentle, yet powerful story of one small southern town's struggle with integration, as seen through the eyes of her white narrator, Joe. Her beautiful, heart-felt text, combined with Jerome Lagarrigue's stunning artwork will pull your children into the story and let them become part of Joe and John Henry's experience. Freedom Summer is a story of racism, friendship and the triumph of the human spirit, told with great insight and wisdom. A story you won't soon forget.
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By A Customer on January 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
History comes alive in this book. Freedom Summer puts names and faces to one of the most intense struggles our country has ever faced. It tells of two young boys who go against the flow and dare to be friends. The language is poetic and moving. Before you know it you're walking down the street with the characters. You see what they see and you feel what they feel. This book is something I will read to my children and I hope that one day they pull it off the shelf and read it to their children because it is a story of enduring quality, and it is a story that needs to be told and remembered.
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By A Customer on December 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
FREEDOM SUMMER is an amazing picture book. It's warm, child-centered, but also serious and meaningful. When I showed it recently to a children's librarian her comment was simply, "Wow!" This is a book to treasure, to read to your children, to share with students. It's a reminder that racism affects all children and that friendship is to be treasured.
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Format: Paperback
Look, I don't want to stir a whole pot here, but this story should have been told by John Henry, the black friend.

Instead this is a book that notices suffering through whites' perspective. I mean, it's great that they are friends and get along so well, but how well does Joe really understand his BEST FRIEND John Henry's world? Because he only just realized how important it was to be equal -- he never noticed it before?

I am sorry, because I wanted more from this book. Love the illustrations.

** update **

I note that I am not the first commenter to point this out. This is a great book, but I think it is told from the wrong perspective.

Ulyyf "connie" made a similar observation in her review before I wrote my own.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One caveat: this book tells a story of the realities of segregation through the eyes of a white boy who has a black friend. One wonders how John Henry--the black boy--might have told his own story..
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue won both the 2002 Ezra Jack Keats Award as well as a Coretta Scott King Award. It begins with two friends enjoying the leisurely pace of summer, hanging around, being friends together, swimming in a local creek. “John Henry swims better than anybody” the narrator knows. They ecstatically anticipate the prospect of the local community pool’s opening day. But, when they arrive at the gates, the boys discover that the facility has been bulldozed. No one will swim there again.

Why?
.
Because this story takes place in a segregated America. In 1960, laws ensured blacks could not share facilities with whites. After desegregation legislation passed, instead of complying, Mobile, Alabama opted to close the town pool, ice cream parlor, and roller rink. Hate and prejudice blinded people to fairness and the rights of all citizens to equality and access to facilities. To deny blacks access, they denied the entire community access.

This award-winning book splendidly captures the boys’ friendship so when they encounter the closed pool, the reader feels dazed by the community’s betrayal. The conversations this book might open are important one on issues such as racism, prejudice as well as loyalty, friendship and thinking for oneself.

The forward by the other offers additional insights about her motives for writing the book as well as her personal encounters with segregation during her own childhood.

Adoption-attuned Lens:

The potential for adoption-related conversations is broad.
Read more ›
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