Get ready to add this one to your "I Support Banned Books" reading list.
We're not going to lie to you. Set in 1933 rural Mississippi, this book deals with a rough subject, its characters use racially charged language, and Mildred D. Taylor pulls no punches in telling her story about nine-year-old Cassie Logan and her brothers. She follows the Logan family as they deal with a school year's worth of racial inequality and injustice, fight against Mr. Granger to keep their land, and organize a boycott of the local store owned by violent men who commit racially motivated murders.
You know, a little light beach reading.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was first published in 1976 and won the Newbery Medal for children's literature the following year. It's a sequel to a short novel that Taylor released in 1975, Song of the Trees. Several more novels also follow the Logan family's story: Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), The Well: David's Story (1995), and The Land (2001).
Despite Taylor's success, this book has made the American Library Association's list of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century. To us here at Shmoop, that's a shiny badge of honor. Plus, she's in good company. Just check out some of the other titles that are guaranteed to get your friendly neighborhood over-controlling school board member all in a snit, including To Kill A Mockingbird and The Color Purple.
And check out what the author herself says about parents not wanting the book to be included in the school curriculum:
As a parent, I understand not wanting a child to hear painful words […] But also as a parent I do not understand trying to prevent a child from learning about a history that is part of America. (source)
And painful "history that is part of America" is exactly what Taylor tackles in this novel. No—it's not a pretty story with a happy ending all wrapped up nice and neat in a sparkly bow. Instead, Taylor's book makes our minds do some heavy lifting by confronting us with difficult and in-your-face topics like racism, inequality and poverty.
If the book banners consider this a bad thing, then we'll gladly give up our haloes.
Raise your hand if you think racism and ugly things like segregation have all been taken care of in 21st-century America.
Okay—if you signaled "yes," then give yourself a nice, figurative forehead smack (but be gentle) with that same hand, because it's not entirely true.
So, why should you care about Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry? Even though the action of the book goes down before the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, don't think that the U.S. is out of the woods quite yet. We here at Shmoop have put together just a small sampling of reasons why you should, indeed, care. Because:
• Some people still believe that interracial marriage is wrong.
• Segregation is alive and well. Take a look at this documentary on segregated proms in Mississippi, or these maps of segregation.
• The number of black men in prison is staggeringly high.
Are things better? Totally, and thankfully. But Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry forces us to realize that maybe that painful history isn't quite as historical as we'd like it to be.
Just the Facts, Ma'am
About Mildred D. Taylor, that is. Check out the biography, bibliography, and reference materials.
They Like Me! They Really Like Me!
Want to know more about why Taylor wrote Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and what she hopes readers get out of it? If so, this little acceptance speech at the 1997 ALAN Awards is for you. (The ALAN award is an award given by the National Council of Teachers of English to honor significant contributions to the field of young adult and adolescent literature).
You Folks, Over There
There's lots of information at the Library of Congress Segregation Exhibit about the history of segregation in America.
Who Is This Jim Crow, Anyway?
Here's some background on Jim Crow laws in the American South.
Dates, Dates, Dates
Check out these timelines to help put the novel's events in context.
Not All American Experiences Were Great
Some information on lynching...truly one of the darkest aspects of American history.
A Major Miniseries
The novel was made into a television min-series in 1978. Bonus: Morgan Freeman played Uncle Hammer.
The Brown Bookshelf
This writer giggles like a schoolgirl because she gets to interview one of her favorite authors. And we don't blame her one bit!
Booklist Interview with Mildred D. Taylor.
This 2001 interview features lots of nifty autobiographical information about the author. It's mostly about Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its prequel, The Land.
Mildred D. Taylor: In Pictures
A nifty photo montage that presents the author's biography and background on her novels.
TeacherTube Video: Mildred D. Taylor
This short film provides information about Taylor's life and works.
Book Trailer: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
A creative little book trailer that was put together by an anonymous student as a class project.
Pop in Your Earbuds
Enjoy a reading from Chapter 1 of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Put a Face to That Name
Check out a photo of our author. Nice shades!
Slavery by a Different Name
Take a look at this archive of 1930s-era photographs of sharecroppers to get a sense of what life might have been like for the novel's characters.
Separate but Not Equal, 1935
Separate and definitely NOT equal.