By Melba Pattillo Beals
Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Simon Pulse, c1995, 2007
Genres: Non-fiction, autobiography, memoir
Intended audience: Young adult
Number of pages: 226
Setting: Little Rock, Arkansas
Time period: 1950’s – most of the story takes place during the school year of 1957-58 (includes an epilogue from 1987 and an introduction from 2007).
Description: Three years after the US Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, Melba Pattillo was chosen to go to Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School. She and eight other students became the Little Rock Nine; they were the first Black students to attend this previously all White school. Every day of the school year, Melba faced some form of violence and hostility, transforming her from an everyday teenager to a warrior. This is her story in her own words.
Illustrations: The book includes twelve black and white photographs inset in the middle of the book. Some of these are of Melba and her family; most of the others include various members of the Little Rock Nine. A couple photos reveal the violence and hostility which these courageous students faced daily.
Pacing: Very fast pace throughout the whole story, however, the beginning moves a bit more slowly as Beals describes the early part of her life and the events leading up to Central High’s integration.
Characterization: Written in first person; the most important secondary characters include Melba’s family and friends. There are also several people who had small, but very important roles in this story.
Frame: The title for this book sets the frame and came from something Melba’s grandmother told her early in the story: “You’re a warrior on the battlefield for your Lord. God’s warriors don’t cry, ‘cause they trust that he’s always by their side. The women of this family don’t break down in the face of trouble. We act with courage” (p. 44).
Story line: A very intense personal story about brutality, courage, and a crucial part of American history.
Beals, Melba — Juvenile literature.
Central High School (Little Rock, Ark.) — History — Juvenile literature.
School integration — Arkansas — Little Rock — History — 20th century — Juvenile literature.
African American students — Arkansas — Little Rock — Biography — Juvenile literature.
African Americans — Arkansas — Little Rock — Biography — Juvenile literature.
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The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle by Clayborne Carson, et al.
Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson by Jo Ann Gibson and David J. Garrow (Editor)
Personal notes: I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dr. Beals speak at the ALA annual conference in Chicago last year; this book had been on my reading list since then. I remember that she mentioned that she had to take out much of the violence which had been inflicted upon her from this story (otherwise it would be considered non-publishable). It’s crazy to imagine how much more she had to endure than what is described in this book. She truly is an American hero and this is an amazing story.
Other (diversity, themes, websites): Diversity – Black Americans