Children's book review: Historical tale engages reader through verse
February 12, 2017 12:00 AM
“Loving vs. Virginia,” written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland
By Angela Wiley
Sometimes, history is not made with a crusade or an uprising. Sometimes, history is made by two people just trying to struggle through life as loving partners.
That’s the case in Patricia Hruby Powell’s “Loving vs. Virginia” (Chronicle Books, $21.99, ages 14 and up). Her documentary novel of the 1967 Supreme Court decision effectively balances storytelling with an informative timeline of events surrounding the civil rights movement.
Nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving are growing up in Central Point, Caroline County, Va.
Central Point is a place where families of diverse backgrounds share in dancing, games and meals. At the same time, anti-miscegenation laws, outlawing interracial marriage and intimate relationships, are on the rise throughout the South.
It is late summer of 1955, a perfect time for Richard to fall in love with his childhood friend, Mildred.
The awkwardness of asking all your friends to a movie just so you can go with the person you have a crush on, the thrill of sharing a kiss under the stars, and the bluntness of a mother who says, “Bring him round to dinner” are all part of Mildred and Richard’s courtship.
Their story is told in free verse, along with illustrations and archival material. Together, Ms. Powell and illustrator Shadra Strickland capture the intimacy of life and love in Central Point as it collides with Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” to integration.
“Outside our neighborhood —
like in Bowling Green —
some people look at us
if Richard sees it
he holds my hand tighter.
after they pass by
he’ll lift my hand,
kiss it and say,
Mildred and Richard eventually receive more than looks, as they welcome children into a troubled world.
When “Richard Perry Loving / White” and “Mildred Delores Jeter / Indian” find a preacher in Washington, D.C., who will marry them, Richard thinks,
“We’re going to have a child.
And raise our
in Central Point
In 1958, though, Virginia is one of 24 states that enforce anti-miscegenation laws. The Lovings’ marriage is not just frowned upon in Virginia — it is against the law.
When Sherriff Brooks pulls up to the Loving home in the middle of the night, Mildred speaks truth.
“ ‘I’m his wife,’ I say.
It makes me feel brave.
I’m his wife.
says the sheriff.”
With this, Mildred and Richard are arrested, and their formal encounters with the state of Virginia begin. They are banished from the state for 25 years and may not return together.
without our new little family
in the backyard
to my brother’s music?
No family dinners?
No pies at the kitchen table?”
In Washington, D.C., Mildred and Richard can legally live together. They long for a rural life, for the home that brought them together in the first place.
They test their boundaries, with Richard commuting into Virginia during the daytime and with failed attempts at visiting during holidays.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if we could live at home,
And give birth in my own house.”
What the Lovings yearn for is so simple, yet so far from their grasp. To gain this kind of life, Mildred is connected to the American Civil Liberties Union via a letter to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
Bernie Cohen, a “young lawyer on fire,” takes on the case in 1963, and lengthy litigation commences. He uses the 14th Amendment as a foundation.
The 14th Amendment protects the right to marry. Further, Mr. Cohen argues that 25-year banishment from the state of Virginia is cruel and unusual punishment.
Ms. Powell and Ms. Strickland place legal precedents and other informational text on boldly black pages. This makes the book navigable as a light reference material and adds a contrasting layer to the story.
It also allows the reader to compare personal, diary-like passages with the legal language surrounding the story.
As the Lovings find out, for every step in the legal process, there is a lot of down time.
We just want a telephone call to come and say,
‘Okay, you can go back home.’”
It takes four years of appeals and lots of moving around, but the Lovings and their ACLU legal team finally climb to the point where the Supreme Court can hear their case.
Ms. Powell takes care to capture the humble attitude of the Lovings. This depiction is helpful in expanding the notion of how people can change the world.
“The cameras were rolling,
I just wanted to be home,
but I answered their questions.
Yes, we have thought about other people
but we are not doing it
just because someone had to do it
and we wanted to be the ones …
We are doing it for us —
because we want to live here.”
By trying to honor their commitment to each other, the Lovings formally challenged legalized prejudice. They won, and with the simple statement “Judgment reversed,” Chief Justice Warren lifted the 25-year banishment and struck down anti-miscegenation laws.
“Loving vs. Virginia” captures the subtlety of a historic moment through the eyes of characters whom teens can relate to. The Lovings’ story seems particularly relevant as we celebrate Black History Month — and at a time when race relations are once more in the forefront of the country’s consciousness.
Fans of history and historical fiction, novels in verse and/or mixed media stories will find this book especially appealing. But because of its unique and accessible format, the book is likely to engage even the most reluctant of readers.
Angela Wiley is children’s & teen librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill.
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