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Early/Young Readers, Historical Fiction, LOVELACE NOMINEE 2016-17

KIZZY ANN STAMPS by Jeri Watts…2016-17 LOVELACE nominee Division I

kizzy ann stampsI think Kizzy Ann Stamps will be a popular Lovelace choice, particularly for girls in grades 3-6.

Kizzy Ann will be in 6th Grade in the fall of 1963.  We meet her the summer before she attends–for the first time–the integrated elementary school in their Virginia town.  The book is told in the form of letters (and, later, journal entries) from Kizzy Ann to her new teacher.  I don’t know that the format is particularly believable, but it certainly makes the book easier for young readers to get through.

The book is a little muddled, as Kizzy Ann has to deal with a significant facial scar as well as the obvious racism/civil rights issues.  Also, Kizzy Ann has a border collie named Shag who she wants to train to compete in dog trials–as Border Collies were not recognized as an official breed by the AKC at the time.  The scar story, the civil rights story and the girl-dog story could each make sense on their own.  Because the author tries to combine them here, each is less successful than if it was developed by itself.  I find it difficult and unsatisfying to read a book that doesn’t seem to know what it is ultimately trying to communicate and there was definitely some of that dynamic present in Kizzy Ann Stamps.

That being said, while not a remarkable book, Kizzy Ann Stamps does an adequate job of using language and setting to give young readers (ages 8-11) an introduction to racism and civil rights.  Particularly at this time in our country where young people see news stories, demonstrations, protests and a lot of hateful and divisive language from both sides I am grateful for an opportunity to talk about racism and civil rights with my children and with students in a way that fosters compassion, communication and acceptance of all people as a community.  As the beginning of a new school year approaches I think Kizzy Ann Stamps–by virtue of being on the Lovelace nominee list in Minnesota anyway– gives teachers and parents a chance to start exactly those kinds of conversations.

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