A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JANUARY 7:

  • Happy birthday Kay Chorao (Shadow Night). Rosekrans Hoffman (Pignic), and Ethel Kessler (Stan the Hot Dog Man).
  • It’s the birth date of Eleanor Clymer (1906–2001), The Trolley Car Family.
  • Help! The distress signal “CQD” is established in 1904 only to be replaced two years later by “SOS.” Read The SOS File by Betsy Byars, Betsy Duffey, and Laurie Myers; and SOS: Stories of Survival by Ed Butts.
  • It’s Old Rock Day. Read Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian, and Rocks In My Pockets by Marc Harshman and Bonnie Collins.

Born on January 7, 1891, Zora Neal Hurston become one of the most renowned Black writers of the twentieth century, part of the Harlem Renaissance, and pioneer of collecting regional black folklore. During her lifetime she was often compared to, and sometimes competed against, Richard Wright, but for a period of time her work vanished, while his became a staple of high school and college curriculum. In the 1970s Alice Walker became Hurston’s champion, and because of the generosity of one living writer to one dead, Hurston and her 1937 classic Their Eyes Were Watching God once again became part of the adult literary canon.

How does any author for children take a well-known adult writer, whose books stand outside of the comprehension of a young audience, and make the person come alive? In one of the best debut novels of 2010, two young writers, Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon, set out to make Hurston a real person for young readers ages eleven to fourteen. The two, who had worked together in publishing, discovered they shared a passion for Hurston’s work. Simon had studied anthropology, Bond, writing, so they combined their talents to create Zora and Me, a novel that explores the childhood of Zora Neal Hurston.

In the book, readers see Zora from the point of view of her best friend, Carrie, as the two grow up at the beginning of the twentieth century in Eatonville, an all-black town in Florida. Zora excels in storytelling; she takes real incidents and either “lies” about them as some of her classmates believe or embroiders them to make a good tale. Zora’s father rejects her for being educated or “acting white.” When a murder occurs in the town, the girls watch and eavesdrop as town members find a way to solve this crime. What the authors do best is bring two ten-year-old girls to life, in all of their excitement and wonder, without softening the types of racism and prejudice both face. In the end, Carrie realizes that Zora has places to go: “One day her mother’s arms and best friend would not be enough to contain her.”

Excellent endnotes, an annotated bibliography, and a time line provide added background to Hurston’s life. Adults sharing it will see some of the characters and themes of Hurston’s work developed in the book. For children, this character-driven work presents two very appealing young girls. The only book not written by Hurston herself to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust, Zora and Me, created with love and passion, may well encourage young readers to pick up Hurston’s books when they are old enough to do so.

Here’s a passage from Zora and Me:

 

That Saturday, while our mamas were shopping, Zora and I were sitting under the big sweet gum tree across the road from Joe Clarke’s storefront making sure we were in earshot of the chorus of men that perched on his porch. We sat under the tree, digging our feet into the rich dark soil, inviting worms to tickle us between the toes. We pretended to be talking and playing with the spiky monkey balls that had fallen from the sweet gum branches, but we were really listening to the menfolk’s stories and salty comments and filing them away to talk about later on.

 

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Originally posted January 7, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: African American, Civil Rights, History, Multicultural, True Story
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Zora and Me
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COMMENTS

  1. Maggie says:

    hi!
    i’m so impressed by what you do each day with this website
    i admire you so much!
    thank you for making this website
    it has been very useful for me
    thank you!
    you have put so much time and effort into it
    you’re amazing!
    ~Maggie

  2. When I first started reading this book, it begged to be read aloud, and I read it aloud to myself. The language and dialog was so innately familiar to me, and storytelling (underscore “telling”) is such a grand southern tradition. I also learned things reading this book that I was surprised I did not know. The whole premise of bringing an author’s life as a child to readers early in their own lives was a stroke of genius in this case. Not that it hasn’t been done before, but it was a deft maneuver bringing alive how an obscure African-American woman in the early decades of the 20th century stood out in a unique time and place. Thanks, Anita, for featuring Zora and Me to a wide audience.

  3. Melissa Techman says:

    For young readers, I love this picture book based on one of the folk tales Hurston collected:
    http://www.amazon.com/Roy-Makes-Aesop-Prize-Awards/dp/0689846401

  4. Betty Birney says:

    Thank you, Anita … I look forward to reading this!

  5. Erica S. says:

    Anita, I couldn’t agree more with your use of the words “excitement” and “wonder” and “love” and “passion” – I felt all these emotions while reading this book. It’s simply lovely. (And yes, it is one of my resolutions to return to the almanac!)

  6. Anita says:

    Erica: Always happy to see you here — any time of year.

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