I have the great honor of introducing Monica Clark-Robinson who has just debuted her first children’s book, Let the Children March. In this collaboration with Frank Morrison, Monica has written about the often forgotten stories of tiny and mighty freedom fighters in the Civil Rights Movement.
Below she gives us incredible insight into her new book, shares her must-reads in children’s literature, and most importantly, shares why the right book, at the right time, can change a child’s life.
Bonus: Scroll down and enter to win a copy of Let the Children March.
Let the Children March: Interview with Monica Clark-Robinson
Before we begin Monica, please introduce yourself.
I’m passionately in love with stories–my stories, your stories, and the stories that connect us across culture, race, and age. I’m most interested in bringing forward stories that are being forgotten or misremembered. Characters in the margins are who I’m interested in writing, fiction-wise.
The kid who is too smart, too fat, too weird, or whatever–anyone doesn’t fit in the “norm”—that’s who I want to write about. I write picture books, contemporary middle-grade fiction, and YA fiction.
I’m also a children’s librarian, professional actor, voice-over artist, and speech-writer, and I live in a yurt in the country with one husband, too many cats, and just the right amount of daughters.
Why did you choose to write your debut picture book about the Children’s March in 1963?
I wrote it because the story was being forgotten. Or if it was remembered, it was remembered incorrectly. The first time I heard the story, the person relaying the story said that the white policemen were so moved by what the children were doing that they put down their guns and water hoses, kneeled, and let the children pass unharmed.
That is totally, absolutely false, as anyone who lived through it will tell you. The children who marched in 1963 deserve their true story to be remembered and told often. The papers in the south at the time suppressed the story—I can’t tell you how many people living in the south at the time have told me they had never heard of the Children’s March.
Once I knew the story, I had to tell it.
Art by Frank Morrison © 2017 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
In one word, how would you describe the children who marched?
That’s easy. World-changers.
Your narrator is a young girl. Does she represent one particular person in the Children’s March or is it a fictional character compiled from multiple true stories?
I very much wanted to root this story in the emotion of the event, and I felt a fictional character would be best for what I was going for. My research included speaking and emailing several people who experienced the events in Birmingham in 1963. By immersing myself in their collective words and in the written memoirs of others who lived through it, I synthesized that into my narrator.
Additionally, I emailed the final draft of the book to some of the people I had corresponded with. I asked them to let me know if anything didn’t hold true to their experience. The goal was to be as real and accurate as possible, even though my narrator was fictional.
In your book, you highlight these children recognizing they needed to step up when their parents weren’t able to because of their jobs. Why is this such an important piece of the puzzle?
Dr. King’s purpose was to, as he said, “fill the jails” with people arrested for marching in Birmingham. Only then would the government be disrupted enough to cause trouble for the city. Only then could compromise and change happen. But very few adults marched—they were too afraid to lose jobs and be in jail and unable to care for their kids.
The teens and children, with the help of a couple of ministers in the Movement, came to the idea that they could march. They didn’t have jobs! They could be the ones to fill the jails. Dr. King didn’t like the idea at first, but he eventually became convinced.
He later wrote that it was the introduction of the children to the Movement that changed everything.
How did strike a balance between hostility and hope throughout the story?
Frank Morrison (the fabulous illustrator!) and I had to be very careful. We didn’t want to tell a cheery story that left out the fear and horror of that week. But we also didn’t want to tell all the truly upsetting details and scare young readers. It was a delicate balance, and personally, I think it’s something we got right.
I especially wanted to give children the understanding that what the kids in Birmingham did make a difference—and a big one! The hope of the story was built-in with the facts of what happened after—at the end of the march, a desegregation deal was struck. Within a month, President Kennedy went on national television to announce the Civil Rights Act.
The Children’s March helped to end segregation, but the goal was also to improve education. Would you say we still have work to do to achieve racial equality in schools?
My goodness, yes. In so many ways, schools are still segregated. I went to high school in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where the schools are called Northside and Southside. One was considered the “white” school and the other was the “black” school. The segregation happened because of where district lines were purposely drawn. That’s still happening in many states.
And then there’s the issue of cultural bias on the standardized tests and in the textbooks. White students are taught from their cultural norms, but students of color often aren’t. The tests are biased. College entrance exams are biased. And we’re putting those students at a deficit from the moment they set foot in school. We have a long, long way to get to true integration and equality.
What books/ resources do you recommend for families and teachers who want to know more about the Children’s March?
I think one of the best resources is the video from the folks at Teaching Tolerance. It’s called “Mighty Times,” and there are supplemental teaching resources that go along with it. For older elementary and middle school kids, it’s a great way to understand the realities of the march.
I also like to recommend Cynthia Levinson’s book, “We’ve Got a Job” for a more in-depth look at the events in 1963.
For children who may be intimidated by marches, what alternatives do you suggest for getting involved in activism to raise their voices and make a difference?
The key is to find your voice. Your voice might be heard through marching, but it can also be heard through writing! Writing essays or books or blogs for others to read is a way to be an activist. Maybe your voice is heard through art or music—that’s how my older daughter funnels her activism.
Your voice might be best expressed through public speaking or being involved with community issues. If you see a problem, find a way to help fix it! Create, advocate, raise awareness! There are so many ways to be a world-changer.
Find the way that fits YOU perfectly.
Besides your own book, what are some of your other favorite children’s books?
My wider list includes some oldies like Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre, the books of Tamora Pierce, Harry Potter (of course), and half the new middle-grade books coming out right now.
I adore the middle-grade genre—how it presents serious issues and problems within a form that can safely help children wrestle with them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the right book, at the right time, can change a kid’s life.
That’s what makes me excited about this industry.
What are a few MUST HAVE children’s books for all home/ classroom libraries?
Well, all those listed above, of course. Plus some of these favorites:
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson (a more in-depth look at the Children’s March)
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney
George by Alex Gino (for a beginning understanding of transgender rights)
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena (a good book to discuss poverty)
What is one piece of advice you would give to parents/teachers of children reading your book?
Each book is an opportunity for a conversation. Take time after you read with kids to process each book, especially ones about difficult topics–like LET THE CHILDREN MARCH or LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET.
Think of the book as just part one of the process. And always read the back material! There’s a wealth of info there.
Are you working on any future projects that you want to share with our readers?
I’ve always got four or five things in the works! I have two picture books, one a women’s biography anthology, and another a biography of a little-known figure in civil rights, that are on submission right now. I also have a middle-grade novel and a young adult novel in process. There are more, but they are still in the early phases.
What is the best way readers can touch base and support you on social media?
Join our tribe of children’s book activists. It full of multicultural, multilingual, and multi-talented individuals, authors, and teachers that are committed to diversity in their everyday lives and in the books they read.
Take out the guesswork and give children the most colorful bookshelves possible for simultaneously raising global citizens as we raise our readers:
Are you an author and want to have your book reviewed on my site? Contact me bethany(at)biracialbookworms(dot)com
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