Every once in a while, children’s authors nail a story. Their work ending in the final sentence, the images floating through the reader’s head come to a sad close, and us, the reader closes the book slowly, wanting more and knowing the end really has come. Bittersweet, yes? This is exactly how I felt about this book.
I usually fly through books. I read so much, I gave myself permission years ago to read what I want and how I want in most of my reading. I mean, the book is there to fill us, to inform us, to change us, yes? I give myself permission to read quickly, to skim. Not this book. I noticed about a third of the way in that I was taking my time. Granted it might be because I was in between teaching courses, but still, it surprised me. And I am so glad I did. I recently read The Art of Slow Reading by Thomas Newkirk--totally awesome read, on my top books of all time list--and in The Lions of Little Rock, I continued digesting Newkirk's stance on reading. He spoke of how we have to bring this deep trust to the works we read, that we have to slow down and really journey with the author by trusting ourselves as readers. Well, I found by doing this that I got to know and connect with the characters more, I found myself more compassionate toward some of the characters whom I didn't like, and I found myself more peaceful in the read (as in slowing down).
This book centers on two teen girls, one African-American and one white, in 1958. They became friends at school. Because of the utterly awful racism that was occurring, the girls weren't allowed to be friends. Of course that doesn't stop them, bad things happen, and still they follow what is true about each other and themselves and eventually teach the adults around them how to show up in one's truth. The author writes a compelling story of these girls, their personal issues, their family struggles. That would be enough for a story. But the addition, the centering on racism and hatred, catapults this story into great possibility. The author stays true to the historic tensions that have been well documented, but she also took liberty to synthesize those times through the lens of high schoolers. What might it have been like to witness older brothers and sisters not able to attend school because of segregation and the need to desegregate? I can only imagine, and I am glad this story opened my lens of looking into the Little Rock 9, racism in the late '50's, and what might have been truth for some people then. Skin color matters not; who you are inside is gold.