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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

When Thunder Comes

When Thunder ComesJust in time for the Mar­tin Luther King remem­brance on Mon­day, J. Patrick Lewis has a chal­leng­ing new poet­ry book, When Thun­der Comes: Poems for Civ­il Rights Lead­ers. The title cap­tured my atten­tion and held me: Mr. Lewis is includ­ing me as a civ­il rights leader. Each of us. All of us. By includ­ing his read­ers, the U.S. Children’s Poet Lau­re­ate con­nects us to sev­en­teen well-known and less­er-known lead­ers, prompt­ing us to ask how we can be a part of this ongo­ing move­ment. In addi­tion to Gand­hi, Man­dela, and Coret­ta Scott King, we read poet­ry about ordi­nary peo­ple (that’s us) who did extra­or­di­nary things (that’s our chal­lenge) to lead peo­ple to hon­or civ­il rights for every­one.

Shap­ing our con­nec­tion, five artists have illus­trat­ed this book: R. Gre­go­ry Christie, Mei­lo So, Jim Burke, John Par­ra, and Tonya Engel. Awash with col­or, detail, move­ment, and emo­tion, the frame­wor­thy paint­ings encour­age  the read­er to think intro­spec­tive­ly.

You can read out loud to your class­es about “The Slug­ger,” Josh Gib­son, who hit more than 800 home runs but wasn’t allowed to play in the white Major Leagues. Even though he was posthu­mous­ly vot­ed into the Base­ball Hall of Fame, it was a recog­ni­tion that Mr. Gib­son nev­er enjoyed.

Emmett Till’s moth­er is here. Mamie Carthen Till insist­ed that her son’s cas­ket remain open at his funer­al, a memo­r­i­al for this boy who had spo­ken to a white woman, for which he was beat­en, muti­lat­ed, and killed. In “The Inno­cent,” we are there at the church, out­raged because “Jus­tice did not have one word to say.” Tonya Engel’s paint­ing depicts a few of the fifty thou­sand mourn­ers who paid their respects that day.

The Innocent by Tonya Engel, poetry by J. Patrick Lewis

The Inno­cent,” poem by J. Patrick Lewis, paint­ing by Tonya Engel

Do you know the name Sylvia Mendez? Cal­i­for­nia schools were seg­re­gat­ed up until the 1940s. Mex­i­can chil­dren were not allowed to attend whites-only schools. Sylvia’s moth­er and father pressed a law­suit demand­ing that their chil­dren be allowed to go to the 17th Street Ele­men­tary School in Orange Coun­ty. The case of Mendez v. West­min­ster was an impor­tant rul­ing in the bat­tle for nation­al deseg­re­ga­tion. Cal­i­for­nia was the first state to adopt deseg­re­ga­tion. Lewis’ poem focus­es on the ordi­nary girl who made the extra­or­di­nary effort to with­stand the deroga­to­ry treat­ment she received at her new school.

The Child by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Tonya Engel

The Child,” poem by J. Patrick Lewis, paint­ing by Tonya Engel

This book is an extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ence encour­ag­ing each of us to “be the change” by hon­or­ing those who made their beliefs known before we had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fol­low their lead. I am moved … and I believe you, your chil­dren, and your stu­dents will be, too.

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