A day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of one of the most well-known moments of the civil rights movement

I met Larry Dane Brimner in the mid 90s at children’s book circles in the National Council of teachers of English and the International Literacy Association. Following his work has given me a better perspective on my own self-identification and affinity group: African Americans, and our deep and complex history. Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 does a wonderful job of encapsulating the highlights, drama and significance of those violent, turbulent days.

 On May 4, 1961, a group of thirteen black and white civil rights activists launched the Freedom Ride, aiming to challenge the practice of segregation on buses and at bus terminal facilities in the South. The Ride would last twelve days. Despite the fact that segregation on buses crossing state lines was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1946, and segregation in interstate transportation facilities was ruled unconstitutional in 1960, these rulings were routinely ignored in the South. The thirteen Freedom Riders intended to test the laws and draw attention to the lack of enforcement with their peaceful protest.

School Library Journal called it  “an engaging and accessible account that presents a straightforward narrative approach to the subject that will appeal to readers. The stark, black-and-white design of the text emphasizes the directness of the prose, while the riveting, full-page photos and descriptive captions enhance the reading experience…. an essential part of civil rights collections and a worthy addition to all nonfiction shelves.”

As the Riders traveled deeper into the South, they encountered increasing violence and opposition. Noted civil rights author Larry Dane Brimner relies on archival documents and rarely seen images to tell the riveting story of the little-known first days of the Freedom Ride. 

“Brimner, whose books on the civil rights era include Birmingham Sunday (2010) and Black and White (2011), presents a tightly focused, present-tense account of what happened during the May 1961 Freedom Rides,” according to Booklist.

The review continues:

While the introductory and concluding sections offer helpful summaries of four major Supreme Court rulings on segregation from 1896 to 1960 and short biographies of the 13 Freedom Riders, the heart of the book is its straightforward, concise, day-by-day reporting of the journey. A memorable presentation of inherently dramatic and historically significant events.

While offering the necessary context for the events, the day-by-day focus provides dramatic tension for the story. Its organization of print, video, and website source material helps underscore the elements of bias-free research, to young readers.

This book earned Brimner the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Medal for the most distinguished informational book for children, awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the the American Library Association.

The design includes oversized trim and striking, period depictions that provide immediacy while transporting the readers back in time. Its layout is well suited for readalouds and engagement by readers of diverse ages, reading levels, and backgrounds. Useful backmatter includes biographical sketches, bibliography, source notes, index, and picture credits. This is a clear, accessible depiction of a major story in the civil rights movement. 

“Readers will get a true sense of the violence and fear that the riders were subject to the closer they got to their destination. Thanks to well-placed b&w historical photos, the discrimination, confrontations, and violence surrounding this Freedom ride are clearly depicted. Simply written, the text succinctly describes the events of the trip…This volume will serve as an excellent resource on this historic event and its participants.” – School Library Connection

Works like this one remind me how Black History is so much more than a celebration of selected achievements by a talented few. It is a vessel for students, educators, and historians to deeply examine pivotal moments of our experience. The impact of African Americans on the story of America is profound and ongoing. By exploring it through texts like this with young readers,  we can grow better equipped to facilitate classroom and home discussions about racism today. This compelling tale of the Freedom Summer promotes understanding of a critical point in U.S. race relations, a powerful message about daring and persistence.

  • Lexile measure : 1080L
  • Grade level : 5 – 12
  • Hardcover : 112 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1629795867
  • Product dimensions : 9.38 x 0.54 x 10.31 inches
  • Publisher : Calkins Creek; Illustrated edition (October 24, 2017)
  • Reading level : 10 – 17 years

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