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Multicultural Literature for Youth

Author Study: Taylor (4)

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Author Study - Mildred Taylor - Book Reviews

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Taylor, Mildred D. 1975. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books. ISBN: 0-8037-2647-3.

 

A Newbery Award winner, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the well-written, believable story of the Logans, an African-American family who retain their strength, dignity, and land despite poverty and extreme racism. Set in Mississippi in 1933, at the height of the Depression, the novel is told in nine-year-old Cassie’s voice. Cassie, an only girl with one older and two younger brothers, is feisty and independent, and she has grown up protected by her loving family and by the fact that her family owns land, unlike the other Blacks in the area.  Through the year, the family and community undergo a series of struggles, and Cassie witnesses racism through vengeful acts toward her parents for helping to organize a boycott of local stores, personal incidents with a shopkeeper and a white girl, night rider brigades, and a near lynching of T.J., her brother’s friend.  By the end of the story, Cassie has lost her innocence, and she fully understands why her father fiercely protects his land.  In her father’s words, “You were born blessed…with land of your own. If you hadn’t been, you’d cry out for it while you try to survive” (205).

 

The plot moves slowly at times, but generally it holds one’s interest, and readers are rewarded for their persistence.  The first part centers on school and the children’s attempts to seek justice with the school bus driver and mean Lillian Jean. In the second half, the plot becomes more action-oriented:  Papa and Mama organize a boycott, Papa gets shot, Mama loses her job, the family struggles to pay their mortgage, T.J. gets in trouble, a crowd nearly lynches him, and Papa sets his land on fire to stop the lynching. The Logans are such a warm family, readers will admire their closeness, feel like they know them, and even wish they could be part of the family.

 

Roll My Thunder, Hear My Cry is filled with cultural markers such as religion, celebrations, food, family, community, and language patterns/dialect. Taylor does not focus on physical appearance, music, or dress. Much social life centers around the church; the biggest social event of the year is a week-long revival in August.  The revival “feast to remember” includes turnip greens, black-eyed peas with “ham hocks,” ham, broiled ribs, fried chicken, cornbread, sweet-potato pie, and more (234). The extended family is close, and it includes a grandmother (Big Ma) and an uncle who provides emotional and financial support. Furthermore, the family reaches out to Black neighbors quickly when the neighbors have difficulties. The Logans converse in a Black southern dialect. For example, Cassie says, “But I told him he shouldn’t’ve been ‘round there waiting on everybody else ‘fore he got to us” (121).

 

Taylor also provides ample evidence that Blacks are treated as second class citizens.. The children attend Great Faith School, an all Black school that has poor facilities and old textbooks passed down from aWhite school. When Cassie and Big Ma go to the town to sell dairy products, they must put their wagon in the back because White folks have the choice spots. The shopkeeper waits on the White customers, although Cassie is there first.

 

“More than a work of fiction, this is a story culled from Ms. Taylor’s own family’s life, and it stands as an important record of an African-American experience from our country’s complicated and not-so-distant past” (www.penguinputnam.com). The story offers an authentic view of what life was like in that time and setting, and often the picture is not pretty or “politically correct.” Some students may have trouble believing that life was so rough for Blacks, and teachers might supplement the book with nonfiction about the pre-civil rights era.  This unforgettable novel is appropriate for ages 9 and up.

 

(Note: Please see "Author Study - Taylor (6)"  for a comparison of Roll My Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Well).

 

 

 

Below you will find links to this and other related web sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link to the Mississippi Writers Page

Link to Mildred Taylor Teacher Resource File

Link to My Book Review - The Well