Review of Run, Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury, and Nate Powell

Run
Book One

written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
art by L. Fury with Nate Powell

Abrams Comic Arts, 2021. 154 pages.
Review written November 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Run, Book One continues the story told in the award-winning series March, about John Lewis’s experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, this one beginning after the Voting Rights Act was signed. John Lewis got to see and approve of almost all the pages in this book before his death. I hope that the collaborators did enough work with him to continue the story, and I’m optimistic about that since they’re still calling it Book One.

We see lots of backlash against what they had accomplished. The book opens with members of the Ku Klux Klan on the march. There’s also conflict in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the organization for which John Lewis served as chairman for years – until dissent got him removed. The whole principle of nonviolence was being challenged.

A note at the back makes me appreciate how much historical research went into getting the detailed images in this book exactly right. They not only researched things like which models of cars were made that year, but also which cars people in any given neighborhood would drive. There are also short biographies at the back of people who show up in the book, and that section goes on for twelve pages. There’s so much detail and so much to learn in this book.

I thought it was interesting that the Black Panther party produced small comic books “explaining to new voters how they could vote for the new party, as well as the responsibilities and powers of the different elected positions they’d be voting for.” So this graphic novel comes from a long and fine tradition.

I am so thankful to the team of “Good Trouble Productions” for making sure that John Lewis’s voice can still be heard.

abramscomicarts.com

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Review of The Great Stink, by Colleen Paeff, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

The Great Stink

How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem

by Colleen Paeff
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2021. 40 pages.
Review written October 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I knew it will be an easy one to booktalk (if we get to go into schools again before summer).

It’s about the history of how humans dealt with poop – and all the people who died of cholera in London before they realized it’s actually not a good idea to let human waste get into drinking water.

The book takes on the man who was largely responsible for updating London’s sewers so the Thames no longer reeked of poop. Historically, there was a summer where the smell coming off the Thames was actually called “The Great Stink.”

The story is told with entertaining illustrations and enough disgusting facts to keep anyone’s attention.

Sadly, at the end of the book we learn there are still problems with poop pollution in many places all over the world – including the United States. Happily, after that spread, we get a spread with stories of communities doing something about the problem today. And then there’s plenty of helpful back matter, if readers want to know more.

An entertaining look at an important historical innovation.

colleenpaeff.com
nancycarpenter.website

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Review of If I Go Missing, by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose, art by Nshannacappo

If I Go Missing

by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose
art by Nshannacappo

James Lorimer & Company, Toronto. First published in Canada in 2019. Published in the United States in 2020. 64 pages.
Review written October 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book takes a letter written by the author to her local police station when she was 14 years old and illustrates it in graphic novel format. She noticed that Indigenous women who go missing do not get searched for as quickly or as effectively as white people who go missing.

Here’s a powerful part, with sinister pictures of men shown in the background:

I am more likely than my friends to be murdered by a person unknown to me.
I am more likely to be raped, assaulted or sexually violated.
I cannot take public transit or go for a walk without being approached or ogled at by men I do not know, even in a safe part of the city; even during the daytime.

She points out that treating Indigenous people who go missing differently than white people who go missing teaches everyone that Indigenous lives are not as valuable.

And she concludes with instructions to the police if she should go missing. It would not be from running away or by her own choice.

Provide details that humanize me, not just the colour of my hair, my height and my ethnicity.

Tell them that I have goals, dreams and aspirations and a future I want to be part of.

Do not treat me as the Indigenous person I am proud to be.

This book will haunt you. It draws your attention to an important human rights issue in a powerful way.

lorimer.ca
lernerbooks.com

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Review of What Linnaeus Saw, by Karen Magnuson Beil

What Linnaeus Saw

A Scientist’s Quest to Name Every Living Thing

by Karen Magnuson Beil

Norton Young Readers, 2019. 256 pages.
Review written January 14, 2020, from a library book.

This book is a middle school and up biography of Carl Linnaeus, who founded the science of taxonomy by coming up with a system to classify and name all creatures on earth. He even thought at the time that he could complete this task. But in his attempt, he furthered scientific progress tremendously by giving scientists all over the world a way to know they were talking about the same animals.

Carl Linnaeus was born in 1707 in Sweden. His parents badly wanted him to be a pastor, but he wasn’t suited for that at all. He headed into medicine, much to their disappointment – being a medical doctor wasn’t a respected profession at that time. But it was a profession suited for someone obsessed with botany, the study of plants. At those times, doctors made their own medicines. His study of plants and his methodical nature ended up changing the world.

Part of what’s so interesting about this story is how differently the world was seen in those days. Something that earned Linnaeus fame was determining that the Seven-Headed Hydra of Hamburg was a fake. I love that it took a scientist to figure that out!

The book is full of illustrations, and many of them are reproductions from Linnaeus’s notebooks. There are sidebars with interesting notes, and the story of his life is told in an engaging way. This is an interesting story about someone I never before realized was so important.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of A Shot in the Arm, by Don Brown

Big Ideas That Changed the World

A Shot in the Arm

by Don Brown

Amulet Books, 2021. 138 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 28, 2021, from a library book

This is a graphic format work of nonfiction – like a graphic novel, but full of facts, presented all the more clearly because it’s so visual.

This book presents the history of vaccines, narrated by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu of the 17th century, who brought smallpox vaccinations to England.

We first learn about the history of smallpox – it was around even in ancient Egypt. And many cultures found ways of fighting it. In China, as early as 1000 CE, they tried infecting people with a mild form of the disease. (How they did that makes some interesting panels.) In India, they did that as well, and Lady Mary discovered it in the Ottoman Empire when she lived there with her husband.

The book goes on to explain the history of inoculation and vaccination and different diseases that have been tackled.

The book does mention COVID-19, but was written before the vaccine was out. Here’s the last paragraph of the main text:

By November 2020 scientists were reporting positive results for several possible vaccines. If one or more are approved, then within months disease-preventing doses can begin to be administered to people around the world. Billions of dollars are being spent to make this happen. Still, no vaccine has ever been created as quickly or in that quantity.

The world holds its breath . . . and hopes.

There’s nothing in here about the reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, because that hadn’t happened yet. But there’s nothing new under the sun, and this is in the section about smallpox inoculation:

Here’s an odd twist . . . Some people in the Ottoman Empire known as “fatalists” rejected inoculation because they believed that stopping disease interfered with God’s plans . . .

I think God would prefer a healthy flock.

Even though I knew most of the basics about this, the book was still eye-opening and informative for me. The graphic format makes it quick reading and easy to digest. But what a timely topic!

booksbybrown.com
amuletbooks.com

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Review of Boardwalk Babies, by Marissa Moss and April Chu

Boardwalk Babies

written by Marissa Moss
illustrated by April Chu

Creston Books, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written July 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Boardwalk Babies surprised me so much, I started telling all my coworkers about it as soon as I finished reading it. I am planning to booktalk this book in the schools if we get the chance to do this again after the pandemic.

Did you know that when incubators for preemies were developed, they weren’t used in hospitals – but in a side show? This book tells that story.

The cover of the book is perhaps a little misleading, since the tiny babies didn’t pose with strongmen, but were in incubators. They were, however, part of a sideshow. The endpapers show exhibits from circus freak shows of long ago, and the book begins with people going past other carnival entertainment to see tiny babies in incubators mounted on walls, watched over by nurses. Then the book begins telling the background:

Boardwalk babies? Incubator side shows? What was Dr. Couney thinking?

He was thinking of saving lives.

In the late 19th century, hospitals considered premature babies doomed to die. They had no idea how to care for them, so they didn’t. Then Dr. Budin in Paris noticed the heat lamp that kept chicks warm. That gave him the idea to develop an incubator. It was a radical idea, one hospitals didn’t trust. Dr. Budin needed a way to sell the medical world on caring for these tiny babies instead of giving up on them.

The Berlin Exposition of 1896 could be his chance. The show organizers were calling for exhibitors, especially those in science and mechanics. Dr. Budin sent a young doctor who was studying with him to set up an exhibit of incubators, a demonstration of how the warming boxes could save these babies. That young doctor was Martin Couney.

They set up the incubators with diagrams explaining how they could save lives, but they didn’t get much attention. Dr. Couney decided what they needed was actual tiny babies. That would get attention!

He went to Berlin’s Charity Hospital and asked for premature babies to show how well the incubators worked. Empress Augusta Victoria was in charge of the hospital, and she gave him permission to take as many tiny babies as he wished, because they were going to die in the hospital anyway.

After that, the exhibit took off. One problem was that although they’d asked to be placed in the scientific section, their exhibit was in the amusement area. So he turned the babies into an attraction! He dressed them in bigger clothes to make them look even smaller and played up their tiny size. All the babies survived.

Dr. Couney took the incubators to more exhibits in the U.S. Then in 1903, the Baby Incubators became a permanent part of Coney Island. He made sure the babies got the best care, hiring nurses to feed them and watch over them around the clock. Since they charged admission to view the babies, they were able to accept any premature infant free of charge, and took on babies of all ethnicities, religions, and skin colors. One day, Dr. Couney’s own baby girl was born prematurely, and the incubators saved her life.

The point of the exhibition was to convince hospitals to use this life-saving technology, but it took nearly forty years for that to happen. The Baby Incubator exhibit on Coney Island didn’t close until 1943, when incubators were now regularly found in hospitals and preemie survival chances had improved across the country.

This book blew me away that such a life-saving medical innovation started out in a sideshow. It’s also rather astonishing that newborn babies were entrusted to that sideshow – because hospitals had given up.

I’ve given the highlights, but you and your kids will want to read this amazing picture book for yourselves.

crestonbooks.co

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Review of Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Robin Miles

Barracoon

The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

by Zora Neale Hurston
read by Robin Miles

HarperAudio, 2018. 4 hours, 25 minutes.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

A barracoon is an enclosure used to hold people who were abducted and then shipped to America to be enslaved. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last living survivor of the last ship that had brought captives from Africa. This book tells his story.

Cudjo Lewis was eighty-six years old in 1927 and had outlived his children and his wife, so his story is a tough one. I did enjoy listening to this rather than reading it, because the narrator Robin Miles did a wonderful job reading his dialect so I could listen to it smoothly, and I think that reading it might have made me stumble. As it was, she captured the character of this old man remembering an eventful life.

The Introduction at the beginning is dry, and I almost gave up, but the narrative once Cudjo starts his story is gripping. He was an older teen when his whole village was slaughtered or abducted in Africa. Then there was a secret voyage across the ocean, since shipping captives from Africa was then illegal. He was enslaved for five years. After they told him he was free, those who had come from Africa were looked down on by the American-born freed people, so they formed their own town and built their own church and school. He wanted to go back to Africa, but it was far too expensive, so he made the best of life in America.

A lot of the book is devoted to what his life was like in Africa. He was not yet considered a man when he was abducted, but he was old enough to remember experiencing his entire childhood in Africa.

The story of his children’s deaths is hard to listen to, though at least he had grandchildren left and one daughter-in-law. He was sexton of his church and clearly had a community looking out for him. I like the way he’d tell Zora Neale Hurston to stay away for a few days when he planned to work in his garden. She didn’t insert herself into the narrative much, but I did like hearing about them sharing peaches and watermelons together. He appreciated someone listening to his stories – and now you can hear them, too.

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Review of Hear My Voice, compliled by Warren Binford

Hear My Voice

The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States

compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Workman Publishing, 2021. 96 pages.
Review written May 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

It is horrible that this heart-wrenching book exists.

It’s all true. The words are taken entirely “from the sworn testimonies given by children while they were being held at Border Patrol facilities or other detention centers near the US border, often in violation of their rights.”

Those words tell us about terrible things.

The words are accompanied by illustrations from seventeen Latinx illustrators, adding tremendous power to what is said, with haunting images.

The testimonies tell of the danger they fled from, of family in the United States they want to join, of severely crowded conditions, of not getting fruits or vegetables, of waking up in the night hungry, of being verbally abused, of being cold, of having to sleep on the floor under glaring lights, of being woken up in the night at random times, of not getting medical care when sick, and more.

There are six pages after the picture book text, explaining the situation. Warren Binford, who compiled the material, is a lawyer who has visited the facilities as part of official inspections. He begins by explaining cases that established what the law requires, since 1997. This includes that children should be released as quickly as possible from government detention, and children should be released to family members. While they are in detention, they must be properly cared for in safe, clean conditions, with many specifications of what that should look like (which are clearly not being met).

Then he talks about his own visits to border patrol facilities, with an especially horrific visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in 2019. After talking with the children as part of a mandated inspection, they decided to amplify those children’s voices and share the children’s stories. This book is part of that.

Although this is a children’s book, you’ll want to talk about it with kids, and some guidelines are included for doing that. Here’s what Warren Binford has to say about that:

We call it a “children’s book” because Hear My Voice is about children’s lives and experiences. Every word is from a child being held in a US detention facility. Every passage was selected while envisioning a child’s eyes and mind reading and contemplating the content. Every illustration is intended to help bridge the humanity between the children whose collective stories are told and the child who is trying to understand what is happening to children forced to move across national borders.

Although this is a children’s book, we recommend that thoughtful adults are on hand to help young readers process what they are learning from these children’s accounts. The book should be viewed as an opportunity to better understand human migration and children’s rights.

This book is also a dual-language book – if you flip it over, you get the same text and pictures in Spanish. So half of the 96 pages are given to each language. The unfortunate thing about that is our library is shelving it in the Spanish language section, and I’m afraid English-speaking children won’t find it.

This is a powerful and heart-breaking set of testimonies. The book also includes a section titled “Here are some ways your family can help,” and you will want to get started on those right away.

project-amplify.org/declarations

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Review of Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning

The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

by Ibram X. Kendi

Bold Type Books, 2016. 583 pages.
Review written April 25, 2021, from my own copy
Starred Review

I got to hear Dr. Ibram Kendi and children’s author Jason Reynolds speak about this book at ALA Annual (Virtual) Conference in June 2020. Jason Reynolds used the research from this book to write a version for young people. Soon after the conference, I listened to the audiobook where Jason Reynolds reads his version, and I was amazed. I ordered myself a copy of the original book – and it took me much longer to read it and absorb the information.

It’s not that it’s not amazingly good and thorough and eye-opening. But it’s densely written and packed with information. I only read a chapter at a time, so it took me a long time to get through it, but I’m deeply glad I did.

This book doesn’t make me comfortable. I didn’t know much about systemic racism at all. I didn’t recognize the racist ideas that I always accepted as normal, from the time I was a kid. But wow – it is a good thing to learn about.

This is a book about racist ideas, not a book about racist people. It’s fascinating to me that the author presents that a single person can have both racist ideas and antiracist ideas. And those may change over time. It’s not that a person is hopelessly racist, but they may put forward racist ideas and act on racist ideas.

He also distinguishes between two kinds of racist ideas – segregationists and assimilationists. I’ll quote a section in the Prologue that talks about the three kinds of ideas, and this will also give you an idea of the style of the book.

In 2016, the United States is celebrating its 240th birthday. But even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared independence, Americans were engaging in a polarizing debate over racial disparities, over why they exist and persist, and over why White Americans as a group were prospering more than Black Americans as a group. Historically, there have been three sides to this heated argument. A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities. During the ongoing debate over police killings, these three sides to the argument have been on full display. Segregationists have been blaming the recklessly criminal behavior of the Black people who were killed by police officers. Michael Brown was a monstrous, threatening thief, therefore Darren Wilson had reason to fear him and to kill him. Antiracists have been blaming the recklessly racist behavior of the police. The life of this dark-skinned eighteen-year-old did not matter to Darren Wilson. Assimilationists have tried to have it both ways. Both Wilson and Brown acted like irresponsible criminals.

Listening to this three-way argument in recent years has been like listening to the three distinct arguments you will hear throughout Stamped from the Beginning. For nearly six centuries, antiracist ideas have been pitted against two kinds of racist ideas: segregationist and assimilationist. The history of racial ideas that follows is the history of these three distinct voices – segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists – and how they each have rationalized racial disparities, arguing why Whites have remained on the living and winning end, while Blacks remained on the losing and dying end.

The title of the book is taken from a speech by Jefferson Davis and points out his racist, segregationist thinking. But it’s tougher to recognize that assimilationist thinking is also racist. Here’s more from the Prologue:

It may not be surprising that Jefferson Davis regarded Black people as biologically distinct and inferior to White people – and Black skin as an ugly stamp on the beautiful White canvas of normal human skin – and this Black stamp as a signifier of the Negro’s everlasting inferiority. This kind of segregationist thinking is perhaps easier to identify – and easier to condemn – as obviously racist. And yet so many prominent Americans, many of whom we celebrate for their progressive ideas and activism, many of whom had very good intentions, subscribed to assimilationist thinking that also served up racist beliefs about Black inferiority. We have remembered assimilationists’ glorious struggle against racial discrimination, and tucked away their inglorious partial blaming of inferior Black behavior for racial disparities. In embracing biological racial equality, assimilationists point to environment – hot climates, discrimination, culture, and poverty – as the creators of inferior Black behaviors. For solutions, they maintain that the ugly Black stamp can be erased – that inferior Black behaviors can be developed, given the proper environment. As such, assimilationists constantly encourage Black adoption of White cultural traits and/or physical ideals.

He admits this is a complicated book:

There was nothing simple or straightforward or predictable about racist ideas, and thus their history. Frankly speaking, for generations of Americans, racist ideas have been their common sense. The simple logic of racist ideas has manipulated millions over the years, muffling the more complex antiracist reality again and again. And so, this history could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict narrative of absurd racists clashing with reasonable antiracists. This history could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict, two-sided Hollywood battle of obvious good versus obvious evil, with good triumphing in the end. From the beginning, it has been a three-sided battle, a battle of antiracist ideas being pitted against two kinds of racist ideas at the same time, with evil and good failing and triumphing in the end. Both segregationist and assimilationist ideas have been wrapped up in attractive arguments to seem good, and both have made sure to re-wrap antiracist ideas as evil. And in wrapping their ideas in goodness, segregationists and assimilationists have rarely confessed to their racist public policies and ideas. But why would they? Racists confessing to their crimes is not in their self-interest. It has been smarter and more exonerating to identify what they did and said as not racist. Criminals hardly ever acknowledge their crimes against humanity. And the shrewdest and most powerful anti-Black criminals have legalized their criminal activities, have managed to define their crimes of slave trading and enslaving and discriminating and killing outside of the criminal code. Likewise, the shrewdest and most powerful racist ideologues have managed to define their ideas outside of racism. Actually, assimilationists first used and defined and popularized the term “racism” during the 1940s. All the while, they refused to define their own assimilationist ideas of Black cultural and behavioral inferiority as racist. And segregationists, too, have always resisted the label of “racist.” They have claimed instead that they were merely articulating God’s word, nature’s design, science’s plan, or plain old common sense.

Racist ideas began in fifteenth-century Europe – and were developed and promoted in order to justify slavery. In this book, Dr. Kendi traces those ideas from their origin all the way through Obama’s presidency. There’s a little bit in the Preface to the Paperback Edition about the election of Trump, but not much because it had recently happened. He does sum up what comes across in the book, that the history of racist ideas is not a simple progression:

Stamped from the Beginning . . . does not present a story of racial progress, showing how far we have come, and the long way we have to go. It does not even present a story of racial progress of two steps forward – as embodied in Obama – and one step back – as embodied in Trump.

As I carefully studied America’s racial past, I did not see a singular historical force arriving at a postracial America. I did not see a singular historical force becoming more covert and implicit over time. I did not see a singular historical force taking steps forward and backward on race. I saw two distinct historical forces. I saw a dual and dueling history of racial progress and the simultaneous progression of racism. I saw the antiracist force of equality and the racist force of inequality marching forward, progressing in rhetoric, in tactics, in policies.

When the Obamas of the nation broke through racial barriers, the Trumps of the nation did not retire to their sunny estates in Florida. They created and sometimes succeeded in putting new and more sophisticated barriers in place, like the great-grandchildren of Jim Crow voting laws – the new age-voter ID laws that are disenfranchising Black Americans in the twenty-first century. And the Trumps of the nation developed a new round of racist ideas to justify those policies, to redirect the blame for racial disparities away from those new discriminatory policies and onto the supposed Black pathology.

That gives you an idea of how dense and packed with information this book is. It includes what scholarly and popular discussions occurred at various times in American history and is backed up with amazing research. I do highly recommend approaching it the same way I did and listening to or reading the young adult version by Jason Reynolds first. That will give you the big picture before you tackle this high-level academic tome. I’m planning, in fact, to listen to the Jason Reynolds book again, in order to solidify the ideas in a more graspable form, now that I’ve dived deep.

This is an amazing work of scholarship, and I highly recommend it for every American. You’ll gain a much better understanding of racist ideas and where they came from, and your eyes will be opened to some of them that you may have always taken for granted.

ibramxkendi.com
boldtypebooks.org

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Review of This Is Your Time, by Ruby Bridges

This Is Your Time

by Ruby Bridges

Delacorte Press, 2021. 58 pages.
Review written March 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I got to hear Ruby Bridges speak at ALA Virtual Midwinter Meeting in 2021, and it was so moving to hear her talk about what it was like to confront racism when she was only six years old, the first black child to attend a white school. Her parents didn’t tell her what would happen, only that she was going to go to a new school and needed to be on her best behavior. At first, when she saw all the people, she thought it was a Mardi Gras parade. She talked about how the year continued. Even though she got to go to the school, all the other children were kept away from her. But her wonderful teacher, Mrs. Henry, made her feel welcome and eventually made sure that she got to be with other children.

This book is simple, written to kids and illustrated completely with black and white photographs. Some of the most disturbing photographs to me are where photos from the 1950s are placed side by side with photos from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

The words to go with those pictures are simple, suited to a child’s understanding. She begins by explaining what her first grade year was like.

I felt safe and loved, and that was because of Mrs. Henry, who, by the way, looked exactly like the women in that screaming mob outside. But she wasn’t like them. She showed me her heart, and even at six years old I knew she was different. Barbara Henry was white and I was black, and we mattered to each other. She became my best friend. I knew that if I got safely past the angry crowd outside and into my classroom, I was going to have a good day.

Then she goes on to talk about the Civil Rights movement and how she has talked with kids across the country.

I have not witnessed hatred or bigotry when I’ve looked into your young eyes. Regardless of what you looked like or where you came from, I saw some of my six-year-old self in you. You did not care about the color of each other’s skin, and I have loved seeing that because I saw hope. Hope that most people don’t get a chance to see, and I thank you for sharing that.

Ruby Bridges also reveals that her own eldest son was murdered. She has a special heart for black lives lost too soon.

She encourages children to keep protesting, keep working for change. Her message is not confrontational, but encouraging.

“You only need a heart full of grace.”

Really, it is that love and grace for one another that will heal this world.

It is that love and grace that will allow us to see one another as brothers and sisters.

It is that love and grace that will allow us to respect the many ways God has made all of us unique and will allow us to turn our stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

Ruby Bridges didn’t have a lot of choice about her fame when she was six years old. But now as an adult, I appreciate that she’s encouraging children that they can have a part in making this world a better place.

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