Everything's changing for Sarah Beth Willis. After Robin's tragic accident, everyone seems different somehow. Days on the farm aren't the same, and the simple fun of riding a bike or playing outside can be scary. And there's talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly--Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She's the first African American teacher. It's 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can't she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn't for anybody who wants to learn--or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.
Booklist Starred Review:
Twelve-year-old Sarah Beth was in charge of watching her little sister Robin when a car hit the six-year-old, and now everything is uncertain. Will Robin walk again? How can Sarah Beth admit her guilt when her family may blame her? Sarah Beth must go stay with her grandparents while her parents guide Robin through the healing process, and with the integration of her new school, life takes on even more challenging questions. This endearing story set in 1969 is reminiscent of the charming friendship seen in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’sFaith, Hope, and Ivy June (2009) but with a feel similar to that of the Little House books. As in The Ballad of Jessie Pearl(2013), Hitchcock deftly weaves her narrative through history to gently bring important past events to light. Excellently written, the novel’s characters avoid stereotyping and are well developed, and Hitchcock perfectly captures Sarah Beth’s voice as she wrestles with big questions. The somber themes of race relations and personal guilt are handled sensitively and with a good dose of flour, courtesy of Sarah Beth’s grandmother’s baking lessons, and hope for racial healing is offered. A heartening and important offering for younger readers.— Melissa Moore