When a buzzard casts his shadow on Moses Thomas’ yard in Wilmington, North Carolina, his grandmother, Boo Nanny, is certain that trouble is headed their way. His father, an elected alderman in the once-progressive city and a reporter for the Wilmington Daily Record, the city’s African-American newspaper, can see it coming, too, when the paper prints an editorial that inflames the white community. The tension continues to mount in Crow, Barbara Wright’s gripping middle grade debut, a novel based on actual events from the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898.

As Moses’ 12th birthday approaches, he’s a boy who simply wants a new bike—but his innocence is shattered when the Red Shirts arrive, spreading their message of white supremacy and evoking fear and hatred throughout the city. As his world becomes ever more complex, Moses bridges other dichotomies as well. Never sure if he should side with Boo Nanny, a former turpentine plantation slave who makes decisions based on observations and superstitions, or his father, a modern man who seeks knowledge from books, Moses often finds truth in both ways of thinking. Even the writing grows increasingly dual-sided, at once rich but heartbreaking, as Moses witnesses the destruction and chaos of mob mentality.

One true mark of an outstanding children’s book is the ability to strike a chord with both young and adult readers. Crow proves to be just such a book. While children will grasp the threat against African Americans and the awkwardness between Boo Nanny and the planter who once owned her, adults will see more sinister possibilities, including the identity of Moses’ real grandfather. But all readers will feel the effects of this lesser-known yet eye-opening piece of African-American history—one that ignited Jim Crow laws in Wilmington and across the state but also helped to build a courageous and resilient spirit in some of those who lived through it.

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