If you’re a lover of historical fiction–books like Deborah Wiles’ Revolution (Sixties Trilogy), the March Trilogy, or Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Mighty Miss Malone–sit a few minutes and let me introduce you to Rosa Lee Carter of Stillwater, Mississippi.
It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve read middle grade historical fiction. Probably because I’ve been so inundated with YA lit that I haven’t had the chance to devote time to reading the middle grade genre I like most. In the past few months, I had the chance to fall in love with middle grade historical fiction all over again, thanks to Linda Williams Jackson, the author of Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars.
The pair tell the story of Rosa Lee (or Rose as everyone calls her), who is coming of age in the 1955 Jim Crow South. The daughter of an absent mother and father, Rosa has long been cared for by her maternal grandparents–Ma Pearl and Papa. The family lives on the Robinsons’ land–working the cotton fields and keeping the house. Often, Rosa and her brother Fred Lee are called upon to help with the labor rather than attend school. But working for the Robinsons is only half the story of Rosa Lee.
It’s 1955 and a number of Negro men have been shot and killed by whites, including young Emmett Till, visiting from up North. Many of the Negro residents of Stillwater are afraid for their lives; Rosa is one of them. Yet her best friend, Hallelujah, is always nearby, educating her, encouraging her to be bold and get involved in making things right in their town. But Rosa struggles between taking a stand and following the rules. Her heart tells her to speak out, but her conscious reminds her of Ma Pearl’s wrath if she even thinks of stepping out of line.
Gosh! I didn’t know how much I’d missed this genre until I read Midnight Without a Moon. When I finished, I was anxious to read it’s companion, A Sky Full of Stars. needed to know how Rosa’s story ended. There was a point in which Rosa Lee had the chance to go up North like many others who left Stillwater, but something inside her told her this town was where she was supposed to be. Staying there wasn’t easy and she pondered what life would have been like in St. Louis. But the way Linda Williams Jackson wrote Rosa’s internal conflict was so intimate and moving, it made me realize it’s not necessarily the historical context in these novels that I’m most drawn to, but instead, the coming-of-age element of the protagonist.
Not only did Rosa Lee have to grown into a sense of confidence needed to speak out against the injustices of her people, but she needed to find her voice when it came to engaging with Ma Pearl.
I hope you can find the time to hear Rosa’s voice. Check out Linda Williams Jackson’s Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars at your public or school library or support your local indie bookseller. Even if they aren’t in stock, you can make the request.