From Kizzy Ann Stamps' very first letter to her white teacher, I was hooked and wanted to know more about this child who tells thing straight out. Kizzy Ann will be attending the white school in the fall because it is 1963 and integration has come to her town. Her black teacher has given up her job and encouraged her students to make the most of this opportunity and like Kizzy Ann says, "When Mrs. Warren tells you do something, you do it" (1).
In this book published in 2012, Jeri Watts lets Kizzy Ann tell her story through a series of letters and journal entries written to her new white teacher.
She writes, "I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Kizzy Ann Stamps. I like reading most everything, but I hate history. I just don't really care what some dead folks did or said two hundred years ago. Sorry, guess that isn't trying to work together, the way Mrs. Warren wants. But Mrs. Warren would tell you I'm trouble in her class, and I guess that's fair. I say what I think quite often - too often, she says - and I ask questions. Lots of questions. And I don't like to be bossed. Stand up for something, thats what I say" (2).
I love books with strong female characters and this one has several of them. Kizzy Ann has a scar that runs from her eye to the corner of her mouth. She wears hand-me-downs from one of her white classmates. She is stubborn, but she loves to learn. She has a nice white teacher, but her brother's teachers at the high school refuse to even acknowledge his presence in class. It's their way of saying they don't want or agree with integration.
Kizzy Ann also has a dog, Shag, an extremely intelligent border collie. Throughout her letters and journal entries, Kizzy questions relationships between black and whites. She questions the racial prejudice she and her brother are subjected to. She and her dog learn that what's inside of someone matters more than color.
Kizzy Ann often does what she doesn't want to do because of her love and respect for her family. After her mother brings home the beautiful hand-me-down dresses, she says, "Maybe it's because of my scar. Maybe it's because I don't have a sister. Maybe it's because of how I spend my time, working with Shag on the farm. I don't feel comfortable in dresses and fancy wear and anything that's bringing attention to me. Still, I cannot make my mother's sacrifice be for nothing. After Labor Day, I will wear cloths that are not me and try as hard as I can to fit into someone else's dresses, someone else's school, and someone else's world. I don't think this will be easy" (44-45).
Jeri Watts allows Kizzy Ann to tell her story is such a way that I forgot this was fiction. I felt that Kizzy Ann was real as she tells what it's like to be a black child integrated into a white school during a time of civil unrest. She does this without making either side the good guy or the bad guy. Good people are good and bad people are bad.
Integrity has no color.
This would be a great book to use in a social studies or history classroom. I would love to teach it in a reading, language arts, or English classroom. Thank you, Jeri Watts for such a positive story with wonderful characters.