Academic journal article Language Arts

On Stories and Revolutions

Academic journal article Language Arts

On Stories and Revolutions

Article excerpt

For this issue of Language Arts , we invited Brian Williams, expert in cultural relevancy, and children's book author Deborah Wiles to discuss making the multidimensional nature of history available to young readers and the affordances of multigenre texts in allowing different perspectives to sit side by side.

Brian Williams is director of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education at Georgia State University. For over 20 years, he has worked in schools and other communities on issues of equity related to race, ethnicity, culture, and class, particularly in urban settings. Dr. Williams's work has been published in a variety of journals, including Democracy and Education, School and Community Journal, Negro Ed Review, and International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

Deborah Wiles is the author of two picturebooks and four middle-grade novels. She has received multiple awards, including National Book Award Finalist, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, and the PEN/Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. A few of the many award lists on which her books can be found are the National Book Award Finalist Lists for both Each Little Bird That Sings and Revolution, and the Coretta Scott King/Steptoe award for illustrator Jerome Lagarrigue's work in Freedom Summer.

This excerpted conversation was recorded on August 12, 2015, and has been edited for publication. The full conversation is available as a podcast at

Brian Williams: So first, Debbie, I just wanted to say thank you for the honor of talking with you for a little while. I read the children's book Freedom Summer, I'm working my way through Revolution, and I am enjoying them both.

Deborah Wiles: Revolution is a commitment.

BR: It's really wonderful.

DW: Well, thanks. Thank you for having me.

BR: So both books inspire a lot of questions and make me think about Freedom Summer, the movement, where we've been as a country. I am interested in what inspired you to write these books.

DW: I grew up in Mississippi in the sixties, at least in the summers. My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved a lot growing up. My mom and dad are both from Mississippi, so Mississippi became the place I would say I am from. When kids at a new school would ask, "Where are you from?" I began to just say, "Mississippi." And I really knew it-I knew everything about it-what it looked like, smelled like, tasted like, felt like, sounded like-I mean, it was all in me. It was the place I longed to go back to. And I didn't even know-because this is what happens when you're a kid-that there was more to my world than that insular little family I was growing up in, with it's crazy, wacky cousins and great aunts and grandparents . . . until 1964. In 1964, I was eleven. The pool closed. The roller skating rink closed. The ice cream place closed. The movie house closed in the next town over. And no one could explain to me why. So that was the summer I began to pay attention. Now I've written two books that center around Freedom Summer. So it was something that just grabbed me in my gut. I mean all those places a story comes from. I just needed to know what happened.

BR: Yeah.

DW: So Freedom Summer was my first book, published in 2001. Revolution is a 2014 book, and is book two of a trilogy of novels about the sixties because I'm still working my way through the sixties. I wanted to write about it because I wanted to understand it better.

BR: As I read both of them, one of the interesting things to me is that Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement . . . we talk about them in history, and we talk about them as a country. They tend to be regarded as, well, that's black history. Right?

DW: Ohhhhh.

BR: Of course, we talk about it during Black History month, or we talk about it near the MLK holiday. …

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