Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts

It is 1963 and integration has at last come to rural Virginia.  For 12 year old Kizzy Ann Stamps, that means a new school.  Her teacher, Mrs. Warren, has given up her job teaching at the one room school for black students so that her kids can go to the larger, better equipped, formally all white school.  It will be, Mrs. Warren tells them, a real opportunity.

As summer vacation begins, Kizzy takes Mrs. Warren's advice and writes to her new teacher, Miss Anderson.  And to her surprise, Miss Anderson responds to her letter.  And so it begins.

Kizzy is a girl who loves words and over the summer, she tells Miss Anderson everything - the history of her old school, about strict, switch-using but caring Mrs. Warren; about her family; about what life is like in the south for all African Americans; and about Shag, her border collie and her best friend and constant companion.

Kizzy is honest, too and tells Miss Anderson that she doesn't actually want to go to the white school, worrying that she and the other black kids really won't be welcomed there by the white students.  Added to this is her distress over the very noticeable scar running down one side of her face from a farming accident.  Frank Charles, now in her class, was the cause of Kizzy's scarring accident with his scythe and is the son of a bigoted neighbor farmer who hates having his farm bordered by "darkies" and who is angry that his son does not feel the same way. And to top it all off, now Frank Charles is following Kizzy and Shag around.

No sooner is Kizzy in her new school, than a white girl in her class tells Kizzy that Shag wouldn't ever be able to win let alone compete in a dog show.  And she's not just any girl - she's the daughter of the woman whose house Kizzy's mother cleans and whose hand me down dresses Kizzy wears to school.

Hurt at the insult to her beloved Shag, Kizzy heads to the one small library she is allowed to use, but resources about border collies are slim.  Nevertheless, she is advised by the librarian that there is someone who knows all about border collies and the kinds of competitions they can participate in.  Mr. McKenna is a Scotsman and a loner who just doesn't care about Kizzy's skin color, just her dog.  And it turns out that a competition would soon be coming to their area of Virginia.  Can Shag be properly trained in time?  More importantly, will they even allow Kizzy to enter?

Very often novels written in letter or journal form feel limited, providing only one perspective and relying on the writer to tell the story.  Here, however, I thought it worked, because she was actually writing to a specific person who was apparently from somewhere else.  Through Kizzy's letters and journal entries her teacher and the reader not only learn about her life, but it gives a window into how things were in general in a small rural area at a very important time in this country's history - integration of southern schools.

And there might be some concern that this is yet another novel with too many white people helping Kizzy, but to me it was believable - they were all outsiders in their own way - Kizzy, Frank Charles, Mr. McKenna, Shag, and even Miss Anderson to an extent.  So I felt that the message here was that together, these outsiders could and did effect change.

And I also thought that the sub-story about Kizzy's brother was a good counter-balance to her story, though I would have liked to have read more about him.  A champion basketball player on a winning team, the local school authorities and newspapers refused to acknowledge them, focusing on the not so wonderful white team.  As her brother's frustration mounts, he withdraws into himself, becoming more and more bitter until one night he and his friends cause some destruction to the neighbor's property.

In the final analysis, Kizzy Ann Stamps is an interesting novel about overcoming obstacles, meeting your fears face on, and the power of friendships.  As a historical novel, it is a wonderful fictional supplement to a middle grade study of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, especially if used together with two other recent novels about this time period, namely The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine and Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood.

This book is recommended for readers age 8-14
This book was obtained from the publisher - Candlewick

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon at Books, Ramblings and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I can't wait to read this one! It's on my TBR pile. Your review really makes me move it up the pile. Thanks!

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  2. Wow, I think I love Kizzy already. I'll definitely have to read this book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. This is a new one to me and sounds great in conjunction with the other reads you mentioned.

    - Jessica @ Book Sake

  4. I hadn't heard of this one before, but it sounds excellent. I know this is a book I will read and it will tug at my heart. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I don't seem to be able to comment back to each person individually, so I will have to do this until I get the problem fixed.

    Andromeda Jazmon Sibley - This is a really great book and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    flashthecstblog - I loved Kizzy right from the start, so I am not surprised you think you already love her. She is an absolutely charming girl.

    Book Sake - Yes, there seems to be a number of books out now that cover the 1960s integration of schools, all great for MG readers and with a variety of main characters. Such an important time to read about.

    Yes, expect major heart tugging with Kizzy Ann Stamps. but it should be totally wonderful.

  6. Aw! Reading your review made me wish I had immediate access to the book. This will make a nice addition to my multicultural middle grade list.
    Thank you! :)

  7. Love the idea behind this book, especially the dog angle. Thanks for your review!

  8. I just finished this book and it was a great read! Great review of the book.


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