Saturday, September 7, 2013


This month Birmingham, Alabama is much in the news as it remembers four little girls who were killed in the horrific bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. It happened 50 years ago, but the pain is still sharp and will undoubtedly remain so. It will take many books to explain the civil rights movement, how it began, what propelled it, and where it is today. Here is one of my picks to help your young readers navigate the events.

BIRMINGHAM, 1963, by Carole Boston Weatherford, Wordsong, 2007
For ages 9-12. An award winning poet employs free verse and a fictional child to give voice to her tribute to the four little girls killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan put 19 sticks of dynamite under the back steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL on September 15, 1963.

This fictional character is like every child who is nine and looking forward to her tenth birthday. On her long-awaited day, she enjoys a family breakfast of biscuits and red-eye gravy. Her pigtails are tugged by her rascally little brother. She’s practiced This Little Light of Mine countless times, and she can hardly wait to stand up in church and sing her heart out. The reader follows her to church and gets a glimpse of four other girls, a little older, heading down the hall. Our character wishes she could join them. If only they’d let her. Maybe next week—when she’s ten.  
However, moments later, her tenth birthday is shattered. The lives of the four little girls giggling in the hallway, heading for the girls’ room, are stilled forever.  As the author says, ”Someone…lit the fuse of hate.”  That someone snuffed out the promise of the lives of these four little girls.

Who were these little girls, Addie Mae, Cynthia, Denise, and Carole? The author focuses on each child and what made her special. Who might she have become?  

The author’s note is brief but covers the turbulence surrounding all children growing up on Birmingham’s streets in 1963. Parents unaware or far removed from that era will find this book is a helpful introduction to how real families suffered and survived.

For further background, if you are following the Civil Rights Trail or paying heed to respected travel guide Fodor’s which places Birmingham, Alabama in the top five of its list of cities to visit this fall, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute offers a full calendar  of events and displays. Guides who were foot soldiers offer personal experiences to mesmerized listeners.  The BCRI presents extensive human rights coverage from both a local and a global perspective all year long.
For older readers, including adults, Birmingham Sunday, by acclaimed author Larry Dane Brimner, is reviewed here.  You will want to view his moving trailer and click on the link in the sidebar to hear Joan Baez singing "Birmingham Sunday."

With both of these books in hand, parents will be prepared to help their young readers grasp the significance of this fifty year commemoration.  

To quote Carole Weatherford’s dedication in Birmingham, 1963, “The struggle continues.”


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