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The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine is a good strong MG historical fiction novel. A spot should be saved on shelves for it in libraries and upper elementary classrooms. If you have a young voracious reader in your life who enjoys historical fiction with a strong minded female protagonist then put this book in their hands.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958.
Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

What I Enjoyed:
  • Marlee loves Math and wants to be an engineer when she grows up. In a world where a disproportionate number of MG protagonists seem to be bookish girls this was refreshing. (Not that I mind reading their stories. Not at all. I am, after all, a bookish girl myself. There just isn't nearly so  many of us out there as the number of these characters make it seem.)
  • I like that the story chronicled what happened after the reporters and federal agents left. This is the year after the famous Little Rock Nine began school at Central High and shows what the fallout of that first year looked like. 
  • The friendship between the girls was portrayed very well.
  • There were no anachronistic phrases or cleaning up of speech that I noticed. This is real Little Rock circa  1958.
What Bothered Me:
  • Marlee's voice was really inconsistent for a first person narrative. The writing moved between sounding like a 12 year old's writing and a 12 year old's thoughts. Those two things are worlds apart at that age. The simplicity of some sections compared to the maturity of others was jarring to me as a reader. 
  • Historical details seemed to thrown in to the plot in heaping doses. I prefer when I'm reading historical fiction that the historical details be so much a part of the woven fabric of the story that you don't notice them every time they show up. I noticed in this. I may not have and it may not have annoyed me so much if I hadn't already read Peaceweaver and Crow, two MG novels that weave in historical detail exceptionally well, this year.  
  • It's 298 pages.

Are kid readers going to notice the things that bothered me? Probably not. (Well except for the last one. That might be off putting to many of them. The cover is also not going to help with the kid appeal.) 

It's a bit too long to teach in a history unit but is perfect to add to recommended reading lists or book report lists. (I'm adding it to mine.)


Betsy said…
GREAT review!!! Couldn't have said it better myself.... :-)
Brandy said…
Thanks! I am officially on a break from these novels again though. Can't take any more MG historical fiction.

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