I read about The Lions of Little Rock on another book blog and had been trying to track it down for months, when I finally spotted it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. I presented it to my class and one little girl snatched it right up before it even made its way into my library. She read it, loved it, and when the new Scholastic book order came out, I noticed she ordered several other books along a similar topic. I just got MY turn to read it and I fell in love with it as well.
In this story, our main character is Marlee, a middle school student who is struggling to find her place among the kids she has grown up with, as those kids are also trying to figure out their social status and how to work the popularity game. (Oh, middle school! Some things never change!) A new student, Liz, arrives at the school and becomes fast friends with Marlee, even helping her to overcome some of her fears about speaking up for herself. Suddenly though, Liz goes missing from school, and due to the reason why, Marlee and Liz can no longer remain friends. Two girls, one white and one black, struggle to maintain their unlikely friendship at a time when things are very dangerous for both of them.
Background: This story takes place a year after the Little Rock Nine are allowed to attend the previously all-white high school, but the backlash that follows involves anti-segregationists shutting down ALL of the high schools as a means to prevent any further integration. The thing I really liked about this book was it also examined the thoughts of the people who were scared to speak out, and some of the very serious reasons why some of them did not. This book took the time to examine the gray areas in between, which helps answer a lot of questions about how good people sometimes let bad things happen. This was a very good piece of historical fiction; the author’s aunt lived there at the time and Levine’s research is well conveyed in her writing. She also gives suggestions for further reading and research at the end of the book, along with the story of how Lions came to be written.
Most of the stories in our sixth grade literature text have the underlying theme about how everyone wants to be accepted and to fit in, so this book is a very good match for this age group. We have read about the Japanese internment camps, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a family trying to adapt to the American ways of their neighbors, a girl on Mars who is shunned for being different, and others who are just trying to find their place in the world. The Lions of Little Rock captures the complexity of middle school along with making the civil rights movement accessible and understandable to its audience. It is hard to imagine that this all happened within our recent history, especially about reading about slavery and just having Lincoln’s birthday as a day off from school, but knowing that it took place when their grandparents’ lives really brought the timeline sharply into place. This is A Very Important Book.
The Lions of Little Rock has a AR level of 4.1 and is worth 10 points.