Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson

Can you imagine letting your children voluntarily go to jail?  Well, that is exactly what happened in Birmingham, Alabama on May 3, 1963 when 4,000 young people skipped school in order to participate in the Children's March protesting segregation, a march that they knew would ultimately end with their being arrested.  This was a time when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum - adults and children, supporters and enemies.

Right from the start, Levenson introduces the reader to four of the young people who took part in the Children's March.  They are a interesting cross-section of the participants.  There's 9 year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks, whose educated, middle class parents had been involved in the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement since the early 1950s.  Audrey was a diligent student , who carried a game with her on the march to have something to do in jail after being arrested.

Washington Booker, 14, lived in abject poverty before moving into public housing when he was 8.  Wash didn't have much use for school, skipping most days to hang out with his friends.  He had no idea that children all over Birmingham were about to demonstrate with the intention of being arrested to make their point.  Wash had already had experience with the police, yet he ultimately, though reluctantly volunteered to go to jail for the cause of Civil Rights.

James W. Stewart, 15, was a serious student, whose middle class parents lived in a home with a pool. When the pools and parks were closed to the black community in Birmingham, James and his parents welcomed the kids from the projects to spend summer days at their house.  Acutely aware of what was happening around him in Birmingham, and not possessing the fortitude to take part in passive, non-violent demonstrations while people hurled garbage at him, James decided that marching and being arrested felt like the right thing for him to do.

Arnetta Streeter, 16, was inspired to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak.  After thinking long and hard about whether King's nonviolent approach to Civil Rights was for her, Arnetta began training to become a nonviolent protester, even signing the 10 Commandments of Nonviolence pledge, after which she could hardly wait to demonstrate.

Levinson continues with a brief history of Birmingham's segregationist politics, including the white Commissioner of Public Safety, named Eugene "Bull" Connor, a virulent anti-segregationist with an aggressive, violent police force under his command.

The book also traces the evolution of the Children's March, introducing the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Dr. King, Rev. Schuttlesworth, founder of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and a 26 year-old pop musician/preacher, James Bevel, who "became the pied piper for the young people."

But what is most compelling about this book is the day-by-day account of the Children's March beginning May 2, 1963 and ending May 11, 1963, when approximately 2,500 young people were arrested and flooded the city jail.

To her credit, Levinson takes what was a very complicated, multi-faceted historical event that involved so many people and so many important events happening simultaneously, and through clear and concise prose makes it accessible to young readers.

By focusing in only 4 of the participants, Levinson makes the story personal and very readable.  In addition, she included sidebars adding more information, copious photographs and important documents from that time.  Levinson's research is detailed and impeccable.  She uses a wide variety of sources, including newspaper accounts, letters, interviews and includes a timeline of events, an Author's Note, a Bibliography and comprehensive Notes citing her sources.

We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March is an excellent nonfiction choice for anyone interested in history, and especially in the Civil Rights Movement.

You can find an excellent Teacher's Guide HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge is a weekly celebration of 
nonfiction books hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy



  1. This looks like a great book to add to my civil rights collection!

  2. I don't know this book, Alex, and it sounds great. I'll be sure to look for it at my library!

  3. Wow...what a powerful story. Thanks for sharing this, it's a great reminder of the impact even children can have on the world, perfect for kids who sometimes feel powerless to make a difference.


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