Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The Silence of Our Friends, by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell
The Silence of Our Friends
written by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos
illustrated by Nate Powell
New York: First Second
Semi-autobiographical account of two families -- one black, one white -- navigating civil rights in 1967 Texas.
Mark Long's father is a reporter covering the story of black students from the SNCC accused of the attempted murder of a white policeman. The racially-charged story is especially tense in the suburbs of Houston, where Mark's family has recently moved. The neighborhood kids and their parents drop racial slurs casually, and Mark's father's boss threatens to fire him if he doesn't fall into line when it comes to his reporting of the next big story: a little black girl riding her bike who is run off the road by white men in a truck. In this environment, it's risky for the Longs to reach out to the girl's family, the Thompsons, but the two families fight segregation together. We see the story from two viewpoints: that of the Longs in their racist neighborhood and that of the Thompsons in "The Bottoms", an all-black neighborhood.
The artwork, too, is in black and white, delineating the social and political boundaries of the time and place. One notable illustration shows blacks and whites marching together in protest; the perspective moves farther and farther out, until the reader can see a mass of people all marching for the same cause, with skin tone largely indistinguishable. The novel concludes with a report of the assassination of Martin Luther King, from whose words the title is taken.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
This book would be appropriate for 8th-graders and older students interested in civil rights of the 1960s. Teachers should be aware that the book contains profanity, including historically accurate use of the n-word and other racist epithets, and be prepared to discuss that issue with students and parents (in the same vein as discussions about the language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).
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Media: pen and ink