Book Review: Little Town at the Crossroads

Book Review: Little Town at the Crossroads

Author: Maria D. Wilkes

Author’s web site: https://beyondlittlehouse.com/2010/01/09/maria-d-wilkes-update/

Date: 1997

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 0-06-440651-2

Length: 343 pages

Quote: “Before Laura Ingalls Wilder ever penned the Little House books, she wrote to her aunt Martha Quiner Carpenter, asking her to ‘tell the story of those days’ when she and Laura’s mother, Caroline, were growing up in Brookfield, Wisconsin.”

And this is the book Maria D. Wilkes made out of the story Aunt Martha told. Laura Ingalls’ mother and sister make friends with a German immigrant girl who spells English words correctly but pronounces the letters “Ah-bay-tsay-day-ay,” and so on, so she can’t be given credit in spelling bees. Laura’s Uncle Henry brings in passenger pigeons to cook into pigeon pies. Woodchucks attack the garden just in time to win the children the right to keep a dog, even though their widowed mother hasn’t felt able to afford to feed a dog. There’s a Maple Syrup Festival and an Independence Day parade.

Apart from being illustrated by Dan Andreasen rather than Garth Williams, this book is much like the original Little House books, with memories of how people used to do everyday work told as vividly as memories of special events. Elementary school readers should be able to enjoy it; if they’re interested in old crafts and old songs, they may enjoy rereading it every year.

Although there are those who think the original “Little House” series (Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, and some would add On the Way Home, West from Home, and Young Pioneers) was sufficient unto itself, the descendants of Ma and Pa Ingalls preserved enough other family letters and souvenirs to have inspired storybooks about Laura’s mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother as little girls. A certain sense of authenticity has of course been sacrificed: these are reconstructions, not memoirs. Children, however, affirm on Amazon that the additions to the “Little House” collection others have made after Rose Wilder Lane’s lifetime are still good reads.

Maria D. Wilkes, who has outed herself as being known in real life as Maria DiVincenzo, is alive and maintains an historical research web site. Therefore Little Town at the Crossroads is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, for $5 per book + $5 per package, I’ll send Wilkes or a charity of her choice $1 per book sold. That’s more than some Amazon sellers are asking, but if you order four books for a total of $25, you may be ahead financially to buy the books here–and if they’re all by Maria D. Wilkes, she or her charity will receive $4. Payments may be sent to either of the addresses in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

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Book Review: Through My Eyes

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Through My Eyes

Author: Ruby Bridges

Author’s organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RubyBridgesFoundation

Date: 1999

Publisher: Scholastic Press

ISBN: 0-590-18923-9

Length: 64 pages

Illustrations: many photos

Quote: “History pushed in and swept me up in a whirlwind.”

At the end of the spring school term in 1960, a small select group of African-American students in New Orleans kindergartens were given special tests. The students had not been prepared to pass the tests. Most apparently didn’t. The Bridges family, however, received follow-up contact from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urging the parents to send little Ruby to the formerly all-White William Frantz Public School. “They said it was a better school and closer to my home…They said I had the right to go to the closest school in my district. They pressured my parents and made a lot of promises.”

When little Ruby was escorted into the William Frantz school building by four federal marshals, she was not admitted to an actual class but spent the first day in the principal’s office, watching other children’s parents as “they ran into classrooms and dragged their children out of the school.” When she left the building, again chauffeured by marshals, “seeing a [B]lack doll in a coffin…frightened me more than anything else.”

On the second day, a Northern-born teacher was appointed to tutor Ruby Bridges, and the two spent the whole day in an otherwise empty classroom. “I wasn’t allowed to have lunch in the cafeteria or go outside for recess,” Bridges recalls. “If I had to go to the bathroom, the marshals walked me down the hall.”

Outside, protesters were picketing the school. The hate was not really aimed at a little girl who had been chosen for her role in history partly because she looked helpless and harmless, “the littlest…girl you ever saw.” The women who “came to scream at” Ruby Bridges also screamed “at the few White children who crossed the picket lines and went to school,” and their foul language shocked even the earthy novelist John Steinbeck, who would later be scolded for recording some of the ugliness in a book. For the whole first term, while seventeen White children were also dodging eggs and rocks as they entered and left the building,  little Ruby was so thoroughly segregated from what should have been her classmates that she didn’t even realize they were there.

The men who hated enforced integration turned their hate on adults. Crosses were burned. A voodoo doll was made to represent Judge Skelly Wright, who had ordered the integration of William Frantz Public School. Abon Bridges, Ruby’s father, was dismissed from his job; rather than extending credit to the now wageless Bridges family, their neighbors banned them from the corner store.

By the next year, when the sky hadn’t fallen, the protesters resigned themselves to their defeat. Ruby Bridges spent grade two in a regular classroom, with a local teacher who scolded her for having picked up traces of her first grade teacher’s Northern accent. She stayed in New Orleans. Eventually she used her fame to set up a foundation to benefit inner city schools, including Frantz. She admits that “I was tempted to feel bitter about the school integration experience, not understanding why I had to go through it…alone. Now I know it was meant to be that way.”

Note: “was meant to,” rather than, say, “had to.” Why was so much hate aimed at little children? Historically, the desegregation of the New Orleans school system was yet another episode where the democratic alternative was ignored in a conflict between two dictatorial approaches to a problem. Segregationists were demanding that Big Government subsidize segregated schools; integrationists were demanding that Big Government force people to change the system their grandparents had worked out. Ruby Bridges was caught in the crossfire between the two totalitarian camps. Virtually no attention was given to the fact that school desegregation had been begun by private individuals approximately 120 years before the federal government was allowed to step in—and in Kentucky it had worked remarkably well.

Berea College hadn’t even been the only school where students and teachers agreed to try racial integration. Berea was the only college that made desegregation a requirement. Dozens if not hundreds of schools had been racially integrated before totalitarian segregation policies had been marketed as a Southern Thing. School segregation had been burdensome. Hundreds if not thousands of schools reintegrated themselves in 1954, when the Supreme Court lifted what had become the requirement that cities and counties maintain two or more separate buildings, and people had known for a long time that one would have been more cost-effective.

It’s good to read that, as a middle-aged woman, Ms. Bridges has been able to integrate her appalling childhood experience into a life dedicated to helping others…but her experience was so unnecessary. If government had consistently backed the alternative of school choice, children like Ruby Bridges and her White counterpart, Yolanda Gabrielle, could have gone to schools that had never been segregated. Both children were bright enough, and well enough brought up, to have succeeded in a system that distracted attention from racial differences toward achievement.

Through My Eyes is a Fair Trade Book. Though Ruby Bridges has not chosen to remain a public figure online, this book explains which charity should receive 10% of the cost of its resale, and why. If you buy this book online here, sending $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, I’ll send $1 per copy to the Ruby Bridges Foundation. It’s a long, thin book; you could fit at least a half-dozen copies into one package for a total of $35, or fit in other Fair Trade Books.

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