Set in rural Mississippi during the civil rights movement, this gripping first novel offers an up-close look at the racism and violence endured in an African-American community. By the time Addie Ann Pickett, the narrator, enters junior high, she is well aware of the racial divisions in her county. She has been warned not to stay on the white side of town after the sun has set and not to "look at white folks too close." But her older brother and the local minister have different ideas and argue that "there comes a time when a man's dignity's worth more than his life." Caught between her mother's rule to stay away from trouble and the call to take action, Addie must make decisions, especially when the lives of two family members are at stake. References to significant historical events (Medgar Evers's assassination, the March on Washington) add authenticity and depth, while Addie's frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop. Ages 9-12. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - KaaVonia Hinton
When the mayor of Kuckachoo, Missippippi learns that the Supreme Court has declared that segregated schools are illegal, he boasts, "Integration here?...That ain't nothin' but a thousand never evers!," indicating the feelings of most of his constituents. This is the climate that 7th-grader Addie Ann Pickett is growing up in. The year is 1963; Medgar Evers has recently been gunned down, four girls died during a church bombing, and the Mississippi voter registration drive known as Freedom Summer and the passing of the Civil Rights Act are only a year away. Though Addie's community is divided by race, a few people like her brother, Elias, and Old Mr. Adams are trying to change that. Elias stands up against injustices, even when it nearly costs him his life, while Mr. Adams tries to use his will to unite blacks and whites in the community: "I leave my land to all the people of my community. Together whites and Negroes shall plant a garden." Of course the whites ignore the will, and someone, possibly in an attempt to fight back, destroys the garden. The Southern adages and folk philosophy (e.g., "Clean folks don't want to get dirty") used in the book add flavor and authenticity. Readers may have to suspend disbelief at some of Addie's actions (e.g., she rallies an entire community to march to a jailhouse to protect her uncle), and they may have to be patient if the plot seems familiar. Nevertheless, this first-time author has created a likeable main character that young adolescent girls can connect with. Reviewer: KaaVonia Hinton, Ph.D.
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
Burg's debut novel draws on her own white, Jewish family's passionate involvement with the Civil Rights movement to create the story of eleven-year-old Addie Ann Pickett, whose family and world shatter from explosive racial hatred in fictional Kuckachoo, Mississippi, during a few intense months of 1963. When Addie thoughtlessly stares at a white woman's hat, white thugs threaten to torture to her beloved cat; her older brother intervenes to save them, and the ensuing violence leads to his disappearance, and presumed death. Then Addie's family faces a second devastating loss when her Uncle Bump is accused of a plot to destroy the town's community garden, left in an eccentric old man's will to black and white alike, but usurped by the greed and racist entitlement of the whites. Addie Ann narrates the story in a convincing southern voice, emerging as a believable and likeable heroine, as concerned with whether she can find anything to talk about to Cool Breeze Huddleston as they walk the three miles each way to "County Colored" school as with the momentous events of the time. The plot line of the garden's destruction through an invasion of butter bean plants, and the subsequent elaborate trial to determine the "heinous" bean-planting criminal, feels a bit droll and contrived for the otherwise horrific seriousness of the story, but perhaps it brings needed, if uneasy, comic relief. Burg's novel provides another shocking witness to the not-so-distant evils of our painfully racist past. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8- Burg's debut novel, set in 1963, is told through the eyes of Addie Ann Pritchett, a seventh-grade African American. She finds herself embroiled in the Civil Rights Movement that affects her family and her little town in the Mississippi Delta in profound and personal ways. To start, there's the death of the richest man in town, who bequeaths his land to everyone in Kuckachoo so that, "together whites and Negroes shall plant a garden." Addie and her mother work as household help for a young couple in town, where the girl overhears hateful remarks made by members of the Garden Club, who have no intention of sharing the produce from Old Man Adams's land across racial lines. Meanwhile, Addie's brother accidentally breaks the leg of a white bully who is tormenting her cat and flees into the bayou. Elias disappears and is feared drowned. Weaving in and out of these serious concerns are the normal insecurities of a girl on the brink of adolescence. Addie's relationships with her family and friends are interesting and well developed. The civil rights issues that come to a head as Addie's uncle is arrested and in danger of being lynched will make the injustices of the era vivid for today's readers. The protagonist moves from protected innocence out to the larger, often-threatening world and finds strength in her family, her community, and herself. This is not a perfect book-some of the dialogue seems stiff-but it is a compelling story that doesn't oversimplify complex situations.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Until now-1963-in Kuckachoo, Miss., Addie Ann Pickett never thought much about how unfair things are. She just figured that's the way life is, and she couldn't do anything about it. But she's becoming more aware of the outside world: Medgar Evers has been shot, four young girls were killed in Birmingham and now her older brother is missing, a possible victim of racist violence. Addie Ann has to grow up quickly, use her head and learn to take a stand for what's right. Burg offers a sensitive portrait of a young girl and her family, never letting the larger history of the civil-rights movement overwhelm the particulars of this one place in time. The threat of violence is palpable, and the relationships among the residents of Kuckachoo-white and black-are realistically drawn, dramatizing both the legacy of racism and the hope of community. Addie Ann's story will help young readers realize that "You're never too young to speak up for justice and lead by your own example." (author's note, afterword, chronology) (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
Starred review, Publisher's Weekly, June 9, 2008:
“References to significant historical events add authenticity and depth, while Addie's frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop.”
Read an Excerpt
June 12, 1963
Now get this: there's a boy in Jackson so rich that when he finished high school, his daddy bought him a brand-new car. At least that's what I heard. In my family, we don't have that kind of money, but my uncle gives a whole dollar to any Pickett who graduates Acorn Elementary School. It's tradition.
So here I am, soaring through the sky on my swing that hangs from the oak tree, when Uncle Bump calls out the door of his shed, "Go on. Get your brother. He'll take you." He stretches a dollar bill between both hands and I jump right off. Sure it's not enough for a car, but that dollar can buy a whole lot of good, like twenty Hershey bars. After my brother graduated elementary school, he bought a baseball. But I'm not going to waste my dollar on something dumb. I want something important, like dye to turn my flour-colored dress new for the first day of school.
"Mama will be proud you're spending your dollar to make a bright impression at County Colored," Uncle Bump tells me.
"It's West Thunder Creek Junior High School," I tell him, and stuff the dollar into my sock. Sure I'm going to the Negro junior high school, but a school's a school. Folks should call it by its proper name and make it sound important.
"Don't dillydally, Addie Ann," Uncle Bump says. He pulls the harmonica out of his pocket and blows a chord. And it's real good to hear him sound those notes, because ever since our boss, Old Man Adams, got the whooping cough, Uncle Bump hasn't had time to play music. "Mama's bringing home some hen tonight," he says. Then he sinks down on the steps of his shed and slides that harmonica across his lips.
I'm heading across the tracks to the white side and I reckon some furry company won't hurt. My cat, Flapjack, and me have a secret code. When I whistle and click my tongue twice, he comes running. Tweet, click, click. Tweet, click, click. Other folk think it's magic, but here he comes, dashing across the pine needles, purring as he threads a figure eight round my ankles.
When we pass Brother Babcock's chicken shack, my stomach growls. And when we get to Daisy's Dry Goods, I kick up the dirt on the path, because I've been itching to buy a real new dress in there, but right about now, we don't have the money.
As always, once we cross the railroad tracks everything seems whiter and brighter, and I don't mean just the people who live here. The fresh-painted shingles and the white picket fences gleam in the late-afternoon sun. Even Flapjack's tan fur lights up a fiery orange. And my feet are glad to walk on pavement.
By the time we get to the edge of Mr. Mudge's place, the sun's diving into the horizon. Flapjack and me pass by Mr. Mudge's greenhouse and his stable full of cows and pigs, on the way to his farm where my brother works. "Now don't squish the squash," I tell Flapjack before we head across the leafy rows to meet Elias, who's bent like a rainbow over the tomatoes. He's been working this land since he was five.
"Uncle Bump says you've gotta take me to get the dye," I say, and hold up the dollar to prove it's true. But Elias stares straight past me like I'm not even here. Mama always says he's "half legs, half smile," but today his grin is gone. His eyes are sad and distant.
"What's a matter?" I ask. He's probably worried up about getting into college, so I tell him, "I bet you'll even get a scholarship to Morehouse. Then I'll come to Georgia and visit you and we'll--"
"Shut up," he says.
Usually Elias doesn't live on the edge of his mind like me, so right about now I don't know what to think.
"Don't you know 'bout Medgar?" he asks.
"Medgar Evers got shot. Down in Jackson. Late last night. Someone killed . . ." His voice stretches and tightens. Then he swipes the side of his hand under his nose. That's what he does when he gets close to tears. Usually it stops them from sliding down.
Here one guy I never heard of gets shot dead, and now my brother's all ripped up and I'm just about crazy. "He a friend?" I ask.
"He owe you money?"
"No!" Elias rolls his eyes.
"Well, if he ain't a friend and he don't owe you money, what's a matter?"
"Don't you know anything?" he asks.
I turn away. Elias knows I know something. Otherwise, why did I get the highest score on the geography quiz in the whole sixth grade? Okay, sure there are only four kids in the sixth grade at the Negro elementary school, but still, a ninety-six is a ninety-six. I want to remind Elias of this but my throat squeezes shut. I swipe my hand under my nose but my tears get out anyway.
My brother puts his hands on my shoulders, tries to turn me round. "Sorry," he says. "Sometimes I forget you're a little kid."
"Seventh grade's not little," I tell him. Then I blink a lot to get the tears to stay inside. "Now come on. Tell me! Who's this Edgar Mevers?"
"His name is Medgar Evers," Elias says. "He's from the movement."
I nod so my brother will think I know what he's talking about. But I wonder why he can't answer my questions plain and simple. If he's so smart, why doesn't he tell me this: Why do they call it the movement? How can he swipe under his nose and stop crying? And why did Medgar Evers's mama give him such a silly name?
"Well, someone killed him," Elias says, and looks away again. "Left three young children without a daddy."
I reckon Elias probably knows how those poor children feel.
From the Hardcover edition.