Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor

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I’m sure that this used to be on the school recommended reading lists, but somehow I’d never read it until now – for a Facebook group reading challenge.  It’s a children’s book, about 9-year-old Cassie Logan, a young  African-American girl growing up in Mississippi in the 1930s, where the local authorities provide school buses for white children but not for black children, where black children only get grotty textbooks already used by numerous white children and now falling to bits … and, as we learn as the book goes on, where bullying, violence and even lynchings are not uncommon.    The book’s been criticised for showing every white character as a stereotypical redneck, but that’s not actually true: there’s a white lad called Jeremy who’s keen to be friends with the Logans.

Apparently, this book is banned in some educational districts of the US, because it uses racist language.  It’s a book about racism.  How are you supposed to get that across without using racist language?  I do understand the concern that young children might pick up on extremely offensive words and, maybe quite innocently, repeat them, but people need to find a way of working this out.   The Holocaust novel “Maus” has also been banned in some educational districts of the US, because it contains scenes of violence.  How do you teach children about the Holocaust without mentioning violence?  And both these books are aimed at secondary school age children, anyway, not little ones.  As several Holocaust survivors said on Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this week, education is the most important thing.

The Logan family – like the O’Haras of Gone With the Wind, a little ironically – are determined not to lose their land, come what may, and we see their determination to keep both their land and their pride.  TBH, I didn’t find this to be quite the classic that I was expecting, but it was still an interesting and important read.  And I think it is quite difficult for British readers, however much we know about American history, and however much we may love America – and I do love America – to accept that the Klan were carrying out lynchings even after the Second World War … there were even a small number of lynchings in the 1980s.  Depending on how you define lynchings, you can even say that they’ve gone on into the 21st century.  It’s hardline stuff, but it’s stuff that people need to be aware of.

This isn’t the best-written book I’ve ever read, and the characters weren’t that convincing, but it was on our school recommended reading lists for a reason (er, even if I never got round to reading it), and it’s an important book for “young adults” to read.

 

10 thoughts on “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor

  1. We read this at school in the early 90s and I can’t remember it very well now, but I agree that it’s an important book without really feeling like a classic. I also agree with you on the racist language – the book would have lost its impact without it and I think older children will be able to put it into context.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We did The Merchant of Venice for GCSE. About 20% of pupils at my school were Jewish. No-one objected to the anti-Semitic language in the play. How do you get things across if everyone’s being painfully nice and polite to each other?! Attitudes seem to be going a bit overboard now!

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      • Most of Shakespeare’s plays are offensive by modern standards. I’m not criticising him for that – he was writing over 400 years ago – but it does annoy me how people yell and shriek about Enid Blyton and Laura Ingalls Wilder but never say a word about Shakespeare or Dickens.

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      • Christopher Michael Deeley

        Those yellers and shriekers may be part of fringe minority – bearing in mind the financial success of Blyton and Wilder, whose works are rarely out of print and have been translated into many languages.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Christopher Michael Deeley

    Jews have appropriated words to suit their own purposes, examples being ‘holocaust’ (destruction by fire – from Ancient Greek) and anti-semitism (anti-Semite people) instead of anti-Jewish. Arabs are as much Semite as Jews.

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