Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, Authors
John Holyfield, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, September 2011, Historical Fiction
Suitable for: Children 5-8 years
Themes: Animals in history, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Opening/Synopsis: Alex sat on bench outside the store. He wanted to go and play, but his mother had told him to wait for her. There was nothing to do on the porch but watch an old mule eating in the garden across the street. There was no breeze. It was so still that Alex could hear the mule munching on a row of bright collard greens. An old woman, Miz Pettaway, sat down on the bench next to Alex and chuckled, “Ol’ Belle? She can have all the collards she wants. She’s earned it.” Alex learns from Miz Pettaway that Belle has played a very important role in the history of the civil rights movement.
This is a true story about an amazing mule, from a poor community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Few could afford a car, so the community of farmers depended on the mules to help them work the land. In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Gee’s Bend and inspired the African-American community to register to vote. Miz Pettaway, said “they felt strong after Dr. King spoke.” So many of the local “Benders” traveled to Camden to vote that the sheriff shut down the ferry. But, stubborn and determined, the Benders boarded wagons pulled by mules and defied the local authorities. When Dr. King died, Gee’s Bend received a call asking if their mules would pull Dr. King’s coffin through the streets of Atlanta during the funeral. Belle and another mule Ada, did the honors that day. Alex sees the mule through new eyes — a hero.
Why I liked this Book: I applaud the authors, Ramsey and Stroud, for their very fresh approach to telling the story of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Holyfield’s bold and colorful acrylic illustrations evoke the determination and the drama of that time in history. The book is an intergenerational book and should be in every classroom for this year’s Martin Luther King celebrations. It won a Parent’s Choice Award in 2011. There is an author’s note at the end of the book about this true story of the mules who pulled the funeral wagon from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College in 1968. Belle and Ada were an important part of history. And Miz Pettaway did exist, a I found an interview with her. She was among the famous Gee’s Bend quilters. Links to resources: Education World and Teacher Vision.
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