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Books in Brief: Zora & Me, The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon; We Are Not Yet Equal by Carol Anderson; Gecko by Raymond Huber


Zora & Me, the Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon; Candlewick Press, 250 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.


T.R. Simon offers a fascinating exploration of the idea of collective memory and the long shadows cast by the evils of slavery in this second, marvelous, fictionalized account of the childhood adventures of writer Zora Neale Hurston. (The first was a collaboration with Victoria Bond.)

Simon effectively uses alternating narratives, shifting between 1903 Eatonville, Fla., where relentlessly curious 12-year-old Zora and her friend Carrie are trying to solve a mystery, and 1855, where childhood companions Lucia and Prisca are separated when Prisca's father remarries, moves the girls from Hispaniola to Florida and Lucia, who is black, becomes a slave.

The mystery revolves around Zora's discovery that elderly neighbor Mr. Polk, who is supposedly mute, can talk after all. But the town conjure woman, scary Old Lady Bronson with her hoodoo ways, warns Zora and her friend not to tell anyone. The puzzle deepens when there is buzz in town of a white man coming to claim Mr. Polk's land.

Simon's vivid narrative brings to life Eatonville and its proud inhabitants, ready to defend their township to the death. (Hurston grew up in Eatonville, the first black incorporated township in the U.S.) Simon paints an equally vivid portrait of life on an 1855 plantation, the complicated relationship between the two girls, and the misery, abuse and death white masters inflicted on slaves including children. A murder, an abandoned plantation house, a ghostly woman on a horse add to the mystery, and readers will be most satisfied to learn the connections between the two stories.


We Are Not Yet Equal, Understanding Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden; Foreword by Nic Stone, Bloomsbury, 232 pages ($19.99) Ages 12 and up.


This important and disturbing examination of U.S. racial history is a teen reader edition of Carol Anderson's book "White Rage," which asserted that when the U.S. makes progress toward racial equality, "the systemic response is a backlash that rolls back those wins." This was written with Tonya Bolden, acclaimed author of many novels and nonfiction works about the African-American experience.

Like a prosecutor building an airtight case, Anderson lays out her evidence, from the debacle of Reconstruction to the Supreme Court cases from 1873 onward that "systematically dismantled the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments," the shutting down of schools throughout the South in response to Brown vs. Board of Education, to the racist backlash against President Barack Obama, the police shootings of unarmed black males and current efforts to disenfranchise people of color with requirements for voter ID and purges of voter rolls.

Some information may surprise. Anderson notes that Abraham Lincoln  in 1862 met with five of D.C.'s black leaders telling them it was their duty to encourage blacks to leave for South America. "But for your race among us there could not be war." The chapter "Derailing the Great Migration" details the lynchings of the early 20th century and efforts by Southern states to physically prevent their cheap labor supply from heading north for greater opportunities. "The Sweet Ordeal" tells the story of Detroit physician Dr. Ossian Sweet who bought a house in a working-class white neighborhood and ended up on trial after shots fired on a white mob armed with rocks killed a man. There are thorough examinations of Richard Nixon and his very effective Southern strategy and the "government-engineered drug crisis," the Reagan administration's embrace of the Contras' plan to finance their CIA-backed war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua by trafficking cocaine to California.


Gecko by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock; Candlewick Press ($16.99)


The creators of the award-winning "The Flight of the Honey Bee" paint a vivid portrait of "the escape artist of the lizard world," following a gecko over a roughly 36-hour period, as he sheds his  skin, hides from a hawk, devours a cockroach, has a narrow escape and warns another gecko away from his territory.  With a wonderful economy of words, Huber offers us a gecko perspective, starting with: "Gecko peeks out of a crack in the cliff. All clear....There are many dangers in the daylight, and Gecko is on high alert." Each page includes additional information about the gecko in a different typeface. Lovelock's dazzling illustrations are done in watercolor, acrylic ink and colored pencil.



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