Set in Mississippi during the 1930's, this is the story of a wonderful friendship between two boys, James William who is white and LeRoy who is black. James knows from belittling remarks made by his father that he would not condone his being friends with a black boy so he keeps it a secret. The boys further develop their comradeship by going fishing together. Leroy knows a lot about catching fish and freely shares this with James. One afternoon LeRoy tells his friend about the Klan and its hanging tree, James is faced with a whole new and very disturbing concept. Later while hiding in a tree, he comes face to face with an unmasked member of the Klan. His life is forever changed by this event. This eloquent and thought-provoking book is an excellent starting point for discussion of the history of race relations in America. The beautifully drawn illustrations set exactly the right tone for the book and greatly add to its powerful message. 2004, Eerdmans Books for Young People, Ages 9 up.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-James, 12, lives in Mississippi in 1933. His father is influential in the community and owns a store in town. One day, a friend tells James that he overheard their dads discussing how a "colored preacher- got what was coming to him." James is also friends with LeRoy, an African-American boy, even though Pa feels that whites spending time with "colored folk" is not "natural." When James suggests that they fish near a particular tree, LeRoy objects, explaining, "That's where the Klan left a black man hangin' for a whole day because he did something they didn't like." Then one morning, James's faith and pride in his father are finally and painfully shattered when he sees him running home, carrying a rifle and wearing the white robes of the Klan. Cooper's large, warm oil paintings create the perfect sense of time, place, and atmosphere. Special attention is paid to the facial expressions of the father and son whenever they appear together. The final illustration shows a tree with a frayed rope wound around its lower branches. A sad and poignant story about a period in American history, and on a more personal level, a son's disillusionment.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Racial prejudice and equal doses of a boy's naivete and experiences collide in a coming-of-age moment that calibrates his moral compass. Life in rural Mississippi in 1933 seems simple, though racial relationships were complicated. James William does his chores, hangs out at his father's store, and goes fishing with a young black friend. But slowly, he begins to understand that there are things going on that he hasn't known. The Klan's activities seem unbelievable to him, but his friends, both white and black, are sure that the stories are true. His father refuses to discuss it. James William soon learns the truth for himself-and his faith in his father changes forever. Vander Zee tells the story without judgment; as in real life, the facts fall where they may and the conclusions the reader will draw are inevitable. Cooper is at his best with action, emotion, and perspective; design lets the art fill the book with color and life; and Vander Zee's dialogue crackles with import. Readers end with sympathetic feelings for James William-not only for the shaking of his social foundations, but the trauma of his father's lies. (Picture book. 8-11)