Book review: March

Happy African-American History Month!

To celebrate, check out the #1 New York Times and Washington Post Bestseller March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, winner of:

  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, which recognizes an African American author of a book for kids
  • Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
  • YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction
  • Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
  • Eisner Award
  • One of YALSA’s Outstanding Books for the College Bound
  • One of Reader’s Digest’s Graphic Novels Every Grown-Up Should Read

Is this the same Rep. John Lewis our president recently derided as “all talk…no action or results”? Yes, it is.

As this graphic novel trilogy artistically demonstrates, John Lewis’s legacy of action and results began with the Civil Rights Movement, when he was a college student. All three volumes flash between Lewis’s participation in President Obama’s Inauguration Day in 2009 and Lewis’s recollections of his experiences as a young black man in America in the early 1960s, making the first black president’s inauguration all the more profound.

  • In Book 1, Lewis describes his childhood in rural Alabama during Jim Crow, his desire to grow up to be a preacher, and how meeting Martin Luther King Jr. influenced his participation in the Nashville Student Movement’s lunch counter sit-ins.
  • Book 2 begins in Nashville, 1960, as nonviolent sit-ins are met with both success and increasingly violent response. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) works with other Civil Rights leaders and groups to organize Freedom Rides, actively demonstrating for integration. The book ends with the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Book 3 begins with the horrific bombing of a church in Birmingham in September 1963. Civil Rights leaders, activists, and supporters are mobilized, but the accompanying rise in violence divides even as it galvanizes. Stakes continue to rise as people suffer and die. The book culminates in the historic Selma to Montgomery marches. It ends, after a long, difficult road, with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Powell’s black-and-white illustrations capture emotion and action cinematically, bringing scenes and individuals to vivid life. Lewis and Aydin write matter-of-factly, sticking close to events as they happened from Lewis’s inside perspective. Yet the inherent drama–whether a SNCC meeting or a violent conflict with police–keeps pages turning, even if you think you know Civil Rights history. 

The book’s tone echoes the tenets of nonviolent civil disobedience. The calm, factual rendering of each situation contrasts sharply with the irrational absurdity of the violence and rhetoric against the demonstrators. Who are the “bad guys” here, those steadfastly protesting unjust laws and accepting prison stays, or those hysterically screaming, hosing, beating, and killing people to defend the status quo?

Insane as the words and deeds of people like sheriff Jim Clark, governor George Wallace, and even President Lyndon Johnson (“You’ve gotta get ’em by the balls and you gotta squeeze!”) seem–officials covering the murders of activists’ bodies, beating activists in jail, assaulting unarmed marchers–readers will draw parallels to current events.

March serves as a reminder of what the “good old days” were actually like for millions of Americans. 

It also offers inspiration for those working for further reform and change to ensure that all Americans are truly equal and free.

I highly recommend this collection for readers age 13 and up. The language and violence–while accurate and effective–may be too challenging for children younger than 8th grade to truly understand, and the heroic acts may be too complex for young kids to appreciate. 

That said, I hope that families, classrooms, and book clubs will read and talk about March (and John Lewis) as we honor heroes of our recent past–with the intention of encouraging heroes for the near future.

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