1960´s Civil Rights – Yankee Girl – Mary Ann Rodman

I was lent this book by one of my students to whom I am teaching African-American Civil Rights.  At first I was a bit unenthusiastic as it is a book aimed at teenagers. but once I finally got round to reading it I was completely sucked in.  The advantage of it being a book for young people is that is a really easy read and you can finish it in a day (if you don’t have a job of course).

The story is based on the author´s real experience of moving from Chicago to the South during the 1960s.  Her father is a member of the FBI who has been sent to investigate the murder of civil rights workers during the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter campaign (as loosely portrayed in the film Mississippi burning).  She experiences firsthand the experience of being in a school that is newly desegregated.

The story is fairly obvious but good;  Alice is torn between making friends with Valerie the only black student in her class or trying to fit in with the cheerleaders.  She is shocked when she arrives in the South to learn that you don’t talk to black people, or if you do, you address them as ´boy´or ´girl´, she can´t believe that the black maid has to bring her own glass to work, or that black children cannot try on dresses in fitting rooms.  She also lives in fear of an attack from the KKK, as well as being ostracized  for being a “Yankee nigger lover”.

This book makes you think about how ordinary individuals make history, and how terrifying and isolating it must have been to be the first black student at a white school or to have lived this racist society.   Alice´s mother says, “One day you will be glad you lived in this time and place.  You are seeing history in the making”, Alice doesn’t want to be making history, she just wants to be ordinary, but she finds it hard to live with the racism of her school peers.

Although this is a slightly simplistic view of history – Northerners and the FBI are good (ignoring of course the dirty tricks campaign of the FBI against the Black Panthers), this is a great read and I think it is an absolute must for young children, it will really make them think about people who are bullied and excluded and inspire them to find the strength to stand up for them.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “1960´s Civil Rights – Yankee Girl – Mary Ann Rodman

  1. Have you noticed we’ve gone from posting about books we did not like even though they were acclaimed by others to posting about books we did like that we perhaps underestimated initially. I think that’s really nifty. But it makes it a different list altogether.

    • Yes, I generally find that some of the most hyped books tend to be overrated. My book club is also good for getting me to read books that I would not normally choose too, for example I am now reading From Russia with Love.

  2. mary ann rodman

    Hi there…this is Mary Ann Rodman, the author of YANKEE GIRL. I was a little scared when I saw that I had a review on ROTTEN BOOKS(!) but was happy to see that you guys are “fair and balanced” (not meaning to plagiarize Fox News). I agree that the book is “simplistic”…to write a more complicated novel on this subject would take it out of the realm of children’s literature. Also, this is a first person novel, from the POV of the daughter of an FBI agent…of course Alice would see things in a pretty one dimensional light. Also, the FBI’s dealings with the Black Panthers came after the time frame of this book (1964-65). I am the daughter of an FBI agent, and I know how little of what agents did was ever discussed at home. As an adult I discovered (through my own research, NOT from talking to my father) that there is a thing called “Bureau Culture” that “back in the day” was drilled into agents. They were never to talk about their work outside the job, in the interest of both the secretive nature of their work (primarily) and to protect their families. Of course, as in the book, not knowing exactly what my father did caused me to imagine and worry non-stop.
    I did not mean for the book to be an apology for the FBI. As an adult I became aware of some of the more reprehensible aspects of the Bureau’s methods, and that some of their “investigations” were no more than witch hunts, instigated by Hoover’s paranoia. If I were ever to write a children’s book that was a non-fiction look at the Bureau, I would certainly make that clear. However, since YANKEE GIRL is told from the POV of an 11-year-old girl who has no idea of the “big picture” , the story is about one little girl’s perceptions of her surroundings.
    You might be interested to know that the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library paired YANKEE GIRL with THE HELP for their “Two Cities, Two Books” program in 2010. The settings and time period of these two books are nearly identical…one for children, one for adults. (I only wish YANKEE GIRL had been a New York Times best seller!)

    • Hello, fantastic to get your comment and to see authors reading my reviews. Don’t worry it is only called rottenbooks as it is meant to review things like rotten tomatoes but wondering if I need to change this!

      I really enjoyed the novel and as I am a school teacher I have suggested to the English Literature and Music teachers that we do a cross curricular project on Afro-American slavery and Civil Rights and the English teachers are now going away to read your book so that we can use that too.

      I agree that the fact that it is ‘simplistic’ is also what makes it so accessible for students so I think they will really gain a lot from reading it. I found your comments about the FBI interesting as I have also been teaching my older students about this as part of the Civil Rights course.

      Thanks for your feedback. I now need to add the Help to my to-read list.

  3. Pingback: The Help – Kathryn Stockett | Rotten Books

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