On My Bookshelf: The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine

March 21, 2016

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine is a tale about friendship set against the backdrop of the desegregation of schools in the late 1950s. The color of their skin is not the only difference between Marlee and Elizabeth, but through their friendship, both girls grow and change. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
Basic plot from Amazon: As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

Why I liked it: The Lions of Little Rock is a tale about friendship set against the backdrop of a historical event, the desegregation of schools. The characters in this novel are complex; few are clearly for or against segregation and several change their stance as the novel progresses. The big twist in the novel, that Elizabeth is passing as white to attend Marlee's middle school, came as a surprise to me as much as it did to Marlee. Once this fact was revealed, a few hints clicked in my head, but I liked that this major event was not overly predictable.  Just as the characters' views on desegregation were not simplistic, neither was Elizabeth's attempt at "passing." She feels backlash from both the black and white community in Little Rock. She can no longer attend Marlee's school after her secret is discovered, but she is scorned by her classmates at the black middle school for trying to better herself. Marlee and Elizabeth's friendship also becomes riskier once Elizabeth's true identity is known, but Marlee turns out to be fiercely loyal, and takes both foolish and extreme risks to hold onto her friendship and protect her friend. In the end, the two girls both grow and help each other change for the better.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine is a tale about friendship set against the backdrop of the desegregation of schools in the late 1950s. The color of their skin is not the only difference between Marlee and Elizabeth, but through their friendship, both girls grow and change. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.Classroom application: While the author's note at the end of the book, reveals much of this, because  the book is historical, you could have students research the time period and the events in Little Rock and act as fact checkers, identifying what is fact and what is fiction in the novel.

Possible nonfiction resources for comparison include The Little Rock Nine: A Primary Source Exploration of the Battle for School Integration (We Shall Overcome)A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (a memoir), and Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High.


The novel could also be used as a fiction pairing for a history unit on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Other fiction titles on the topic include Little Rock Nine (Turning Points) (a graphic novel) and Fire from the Rock.


If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Lions of Little Rock for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.
 
For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:


Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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