Little Rock Nine Challenge Segregation Review

By | Friday, August 04, 2023 Leave a Comment
Last week, I reviewed a graphic novel about the Little Rock Nine and, as you might recall, I really didn't find focusing the story around a white kid appropriate for the subject. This week, I'm comparing that against the version by Myra Faye Turner and Dolo Okecki last year.

The most immediately obvious difference between the two is size. The Marshall Poe/Ellen Lindner book is 128 pages while the Turner/Okecki one is ony 32; clearly they're not going to be able to get into too much detail with the latter. The problem/challenge with telling the story of the Little Rock Nine is that, regardless of your approach, you need to provide a fair amount of context. Because the story is not just that nine Black kids walked into a all-white school for the first time; but it's nine Black kids who walked into an all-white school three years after the US Supreme Court said segregation was illegal and the Arkansas state governor openly defied that by calling in the National Guard to actively prevent them from entering and President Eisenhower had to personally intervene by sending in paratroopers to protect the kids and... The fact that we don't have open segregation now means that you have to lay some contextual groundwork, which Turner is able to do in the first few pages.

Those first few pages are a little staid in terms of storytelling; it's basically written as a prologue, which is serviceable enough but it's essentially just a bunch of illustrated captions. I have to admit, though, that I was a little disappointed to see that approach continue throughout the book. Don't get me wrong; there are a number of dialogue balloons and it is very much comics by pretty much any definition, but the captions do much of the heavy lifting from a storytelling perspective. That also means that we don't get much insight into the protagonists as individuals; we're told a few snippets about each of them, but we don't get many examples of them showcasing their personality or character traits. To be fair, though, there's not a whole lot of characterization you can do for ten individuals (the nine kids and Daisy Bates) in only thirty-ish pages.

What Turner does much better than Poe, I feel, is relaying the facts. Poe's version really just uses the event as a backdrop for a fictional story, and he glossed over or even changed several details of the actual events to suit the story. Turner instead relays what happened and includes many elements that, if she had a larger page allocation to work with, she could do a lot more with. And while some of them might seem small, I think their inclusion does speak to the kids' collective character in ways that she doesn't have the time to do individually. Kind of an indirect characterization, you might say. Plus, it also helps to frame the entire episode more completely.

Okecki's art is generally serviceable enough. As I said, the captions do much of the storytelling, and things jump from scene to scene rapidly so she doesn't have much opportunity to show off any storytelling skills. Kids can be hard to draw, and she does so pretty well, keeping them all individually identifiable throughout. I did take issue with how she drew cars, though. I know they can be difficult for artists to get right, they were really not drawn well anywhere here. In fact, there was one panel focusing on how one of the kids had to drive away to escape a mob where I literally could not tell if the car was going forwards or backwards. Even with both occupants clearly visible!

Despite the book being somewhat rudimentary in its coverage (mostly due to its page count) I still found it to be a better and more comprehensive overview than the one I looked at last week. Even more impressive when you consider it's aimed at 8-11 year olds, there's more background and context here than in the longer work. I first looked at Capstone Press's Graphic Library line, of which this book is one of, way back in 2011 and I was impressed then that they were doing a doing a good job covering topics that don't get enough (any?) attention in schools. Not only were they able to cover normally-glossed-over matters, but they did so honestly and fairly, even if the low page count meant that couldn't get into too much detail. I'm inordinately pleased that the line is still going (I noted last week how many such lines are canceled quickly) and still doing a good job covering tough and under-served topics. The Little Rock Nine Challenge Segregation should be available through most bookstores now and retails for $7.95 US.
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