The Teachers’ March: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History – by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer, Calkins Creek (an imprint of Boyds Mills & Kane), 9781629794525, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? A moving and very elegant picture book about a little-known event in civil rights history: the 1965 Selma Teachers’ March. The brainchild of high school science teacher, the Reverend F.D. Reese, the march was significant because it marked the first time that a group of respected black professionals had organized en mass to call for voting rights. This is a complex historic event and the authors do a good job of using a clear timeline and simple language to explain what happened and why. By focusing on a few individuals (the reverend, Coach Higgins, and “Too Sweet” Parrish and her daughter Joyce) they direct attention to their stories and make the history personal. Martin Luther King’s appearance at Brown Chapel in Selma, which rallies the teachers, will also help young readers realize the magnitude of the action. The book also includes a long authors’ note about how they learned about the march, photos of actual participants, a timeline, bibliography and a list of places mentioned in the book that you can actually visit in person.
The artwork is exceptional. Palmer’s bold acrylic brushstrokes sometimes verge on the abstract, but always give enough detail to help us understand what we’re seeing. Although some pages are quite conventional in their subject matter (Reese standing in front of a classroom or MLK striding into the church), Palmer also frequently zooms in on everyday objects, giving them new weight. A huge gavel strikes a sound block on one page, while on the opposite page, a white hand can be seen signing an order banning marching or talking about voting rights. When the marchers set out for the courthouse, Palmer shows us their feet, in proudly shined, professional shoes. When the Voting Rights Act passes, we see a long line of Black people, with a giant ballot box in the forefront, as they vote Sheriff Clark out of office.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I did think the book could have opened with a bit more background information. We don’t learn until 5-6 pages in that it’s set in 1964. The title page shows a striking image of Black hands holding aloft…toothbrushes? Given Palmer’s sophisticated and nonrepresentational images, at first I thought I must be mistaken. Not until the end of the book do we learn that teachers carried their toothbrushes with them on the march, in anticipation of spending the night in jail.
To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone interested in civil rights history. I loved that while the story pays tribute to Reverend Reese as an organizer, it also pays tribute to ordinary people who showed remarkable fortitude. The text is wordy, so I think it’s a good read aloud choice for students from ages 6-12. It would pair well with Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (2010) or Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation (2008). A good jumping off point for discussions about justice and the power of community organizing.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? 323.1196
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: January 3, 2021