Today I want to share a book that I read for the first time almost ten years ago and it immediately became a fixture on my “All-Time Favorites” list. I found Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia by accident at the library. I was looking for a book by another author whose last name begins with ‘O’ (which was not on the shelves) and I happened to see Fame and Glory by Barbara O’Connor. I pulled it off the shelf, glanced through it and made the decision to check it out: a serendipitous bookish moment!
Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia is the story of Burdette Weaver (Bird), a sixth-grade girl living in the small town of Freedom, Georgia. Bird is picked on and bullied at school, ostracized and longing for a friend. When we first meet Bird she is talking to her next door neighbor, Miss Delphine, about the new boy, Harlem Tate, who has come to live in Freedom and is now attending her school. Bird figures if she can get to him before anyone can “poison his mind with lies” she has a chance at becoming his friend. She has also noticed that Harlem doesn’t interact with the other kids and she has heard them call him cruel names in the same way they often do to her. She figures they have this in common, which is another reason to be hopeful about becoming friends.
While Bird begins to strategically execute a plan (and then a backup plan) she hopes will result in Harlem Tate becoming her friend, her classroom teacher announces the school will have a Spelling Bee. At first, Bird is not interested, but the more she learns about it, the more she begins to believe the Spelling Bee might provide her with the path to achieving her life’s goals:
All my life, I’ve had two goals. Two things I want more than anything. One is to get noticed in this town…. Just one short day of fame and glory in Freedom, Georgia, would be fine with me. Shoot, just a couple of minutes of fame and glory would be fine with me. Just enough to show folks my true self that they been missing all these years.
My other goal in life is to get to Disney World. Just once.
Bird ends up combining her plan to befriend Harlem and the Spelling Bee to move her toward both her life’s goals. Along her journey Bird discovers the kind of recognition that means the most to her is perhaps not what she thought it would be. I absolutely fell in love with the character of Bird the first time I read the book. She has attender, open and loving heart, motivated to contribute positively to the world (and the people) around her and to genuinely know herself. Harlem is also poignantly drawn and Miss Delphine is that one special adult every kid needs in addition to her parents who loves and treasures her unconditionally.
I have read this book aloud many times in 4th grade classrooms and the kids are entranced by Bird’s fearlessness, her kindness and her unfailing persistence in the face of not-so-great odds. One of my favorite things about this story is that it seems to be heading in a predictable direction, but there is a twist in the plot about two-thirds of the way through the book. That is always my favorite part to read aloud in classrooms because every time the students react both physically and audibly to the moment when the less predictable event occurs. They gasp out loud and I hear “No!” and “Why?” and “Whaaat?” And if it so happens that I read that part at the end of our reading time, they beg me not to stop there…”just ONE more chapter!” These are my favorite moments of sharing stories–when we are collectively so involved with these characters we can’t bear to let them go.
When I pulled Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia off my shelf today so I could quote it accurately, I ended up reading the whole book again because I find I have missed Bird and Harlem and all the others! This is an excellent independent reading choice and–I speak from experience–a fantastic read-aloud, particularly with 4th Graders! Bird’s story is one of kindness, compassion and true friendship–also most kids have usually never heard of it so it’s a wonderful opportunity to have all your students experience a story together at the same time.