Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Simeon's Story

Simeon's Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till by Simeon Wright with Herb Boyd
144 pages
published by Lawrence Hill Books

Publisher's comments:

No modern tragedy has had a greater impact on race relations in America than the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy from Chicago whose body was battered beyond recognition and dumped in the Tallahatchie River while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, in 1955. This grotesque crime became the catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Simeon Wright saw and heard his cousin Emmett whistle at Caroline Bryant at a grocery store; he was sleeping in the same bed with him when her husband came in and took Emmett away; and he was at the sensational trial.

Simeon’s Story tells what it was like to grow up in Mississippi in the 1940s; paints a vivid portrait of Moses Wright, Simeon’s father, a preacher who bravely testified against the killers; explains exactly what happened during Emmett’s visit to Mississippi, clearing up a number of common misperceptions; and shows how the Wright family lived in fear after the trial, and how they endured the years afterward.

Simeon’s Story is the gripping coming-of-age memoir of a man who was deeply hurt by the horror of his cousin’s murder and, through prayer and hope, has come to believe that it’s now time to tell it like it was.

My comments:

The foreword, by writer Herb Boyd, relates how he met Simeon Wright at a screening of a documentary about Till. Over the course of a few years, Wright was convinced to put his story in writing with help from Boyd. Boyd explains that it's Wright who tells the story (not him) and that he has merely added facts here and there to fill readers in more fully on the time and place. In the acknowledgments that follow, Wright thanks his wife for helping to convince him to share his story with Boyd.

Wright has told his story in plain but compelling language, and I felt as I read that I sat and listened to Wright telling it to me in person. There are only a couple of spots (near the beginning and near the end) where I sensed Boyd's intrusion, but even then the spell wasn't completely broken.

In addition to presenting a unique first-hand perspective of Emmett Till's last days, Wright reveals the story of his own life, which has been irrevocably shaped by Till's murder. Chapters near the end provide updates about the case, which was reopened in 2004, and the "Till Bill" that was signed into law in 2008.

In an appendix, Wright refutes several myths surrounding his cousin and the original trial of his murderers. The index is helpful for looking up names, things that modern young readers may be unfamiliar with (like the Sears catalog), and key locations like Bryant's grocery store.

There are a few black and white pictures integrated into the text, as well as a map and a layout of the Wright's home. The design and layout are not fancy; the gripping story is the main focus.

Your Comments?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Discussion Updates

The initial discussion held on June 2 was attended by a small but passionate group. Several new titles came up in addition to the ones I've written about on this blog:

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honeybee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns has received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. It's part of Houghton Mifflin's wonderful Scientists in the Field series, and like other entries in the series the well-researched text is accompanied by beautiful photographs.

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson is a colorful archaeological mystery from National Geographic that has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist. New theories and discoveries about Stonehenge's are among the highlights.

They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti comes out in August, and is already generating a lot of buzz. The cover is shocking and the topic -- a secret terrorist organization takes root in America -- is gripping.

Charles Darwin and the Mystery of Mysteries
by Niles Eldredge and Susan Pearson came out in May - I know, I know - do we need another book about Darwin? This seems to be a good one, though.

We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change was adapted by Sally Walker from a 2005 adult work by Tim Flannery. This is an important and popular topic.

Hip Hop World by Dalton Higgins is part of the Groundwork Guides series, and is a brief but well-rounded international survey of hip-hop music.

The final discussion has been scheduled for Thursday, December 2 at National-Louis University's North Shore Campus in Skokie, IL. Keep an eye out here for more details. In the meantime, look for reading suggestions here and feel free to post your own suggestions, as well.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Look for this Interesting Article...

If you haven't read it already, look for Angela Carstensen's article in the Spring 2010 issue of YALS, "YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Year One. " The 3-page feature starts on page 38. Carstensen was the chair of the new award committee, and she presents an enlightening inside view of the process that went into the selection of the 2010 nominations, finalists, and winners.

The committee wrangled with issues like whether to include poetry and books published for the 10-12 age range, readability and accessibility versus appeal, and how to judge books that don't rely on research. Carstensen ends the article by encouraging field nominations. The link to the page where you can nominate a title is: