“You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you…”
I’m not sure what it says about me that I tend to enjoy children’s literature more than literature meant for adults. Or that I prefer Coco Pops to toast. Or that I listen to Alkaline Trio more than Mozart. Well I say I’m not sure, I’m pretty sure it says that I am an uncultured, immature, babyman. My underlying psychological deficiencies aside, there is no denying that sometimes books meant for children are just more fun. Hence the undying love for Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland. Some strengths that those books have in common is that they are not afraid to introduce their young audience to tragedy and the idea that life isn’t always fair. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry also never shuns the dark side of life. The difference is, this book isn’t set in a magical school or the sprawling battlefields of Middle Earth, it takes place in the very real world of turn of the century America.
In 1918, people of colour were still very much second class citizens in America. This is never more apparent than when considering the fictional Logan family. Roll of Thunder is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Cassie Logan. It is essentially the story of how Cassie and her peers navigate a society that is still riddled with insidious and ubiquitous racism. As with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Mildred D. Taylor’s seminal novel disguises a morality tale behind a deceptively simple veneer. One that any child could understand. In doing so it is able to bestow a powerful and important message without ever feeling overly educational or preachy. Two techniques that are loathed by children everywhere.
Indeed, there are many parallels to be drawn between Roll of Thunder and Striped Pyjamas. Both have an underlying sense of dread that defines the novel. Every uplifting moment is tempered by the threat of violence and death. This all adds up to form a novel that is poignant and touching but not only that, it is important. Children should not be shielded from the darker side of society.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry should be read by everyone of every age.