cover image Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer

Deborah Wiles. Atheneum Books, $18.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83016-7

Set in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, Wiles's affecting debut children's book about two boys--one white and the other African-American--underscores the bittersweet aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Rather than opening public pools, roller rinks and shops to African-Americans, many towns and private owners boarded up the doors. Wiles delivers her message incisively through the credible voices of her young characters, narrator Joe and his best friend, John Henry, whose mother works as housekeeper for Joe's family. Joe and John spend many hours swimming together in the creek because John is not allowed in the public pool, so on the day the Civil Rights Act is enacted, they visit the town pool together, excited about diving for nickels in the clear water. Instead they find a work crew--including John Henry's older brother--filling in the pool with asphalt. ""John Henry's voice shakes. `White folks don't want colored folks in their pool.' "" The tale ends on an upbeat if tenuous note, as the boys walk together through the front door of a once-segregated shop to buy ice pops. Lagarrigue's (My Man Blue) softly focused, impressionistic paintings capture the lazy feel of summer days and affirm the bond between the two boys. The artist's close-up portraits of the boys' faces, as well as the body language of other characters, reinforce the narrative's powerful emotional pitch. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)