In late spring of 1963 the front line of the American Civil Rights movement was located in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a time when the lives of black Americans were continually threatened by the very authorities whose duty it was to protect them. One of the most remarkable events in the annals of our nation took place during this time, an event which saw 4,000 of our nation’s least experienced and most vulnerable citizens rise up against the tyranny of segregation. They were children, some as young as nine years old, and they changed the course of American history.
EMU’s Debuts is immensely proud to celebrate the launch of Cynthia Levinson’s middle-grade debut, WE’VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH. It’s an extraordinary book that’s already earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. Prominent book distributor Baker and Taylor called it “the cat’s meow,” and School Library Journal’s Practically Paradise blog believes it may be the most important historical account of the Civil Rights Movement that students will read in school (which they will, of course).
As we did for Michelle Ray‘s debut, FALLING FOR HAMLET, we’ll be posting all week long about WE’VE GOT A JOB. There’ll be interviews, quizzes, teaching ideas, wonderful stories, prizes, and just lotsa EMU-esque good vibes. FYI, all you little EMUs who comment this week will receive a free “I can be a hero too!” badge. We’ll also have two opportunities to win a free, personalized copy of the book – the first is by leaving a comment on this blog post.
But first, the story of how this amazing story became a book, courtesy of three major players in its publication: Chris Barton, Erin Murphy, and Kathy Landwehr.
Part I: An Early Recommendation
Austin, Texas is a fiery mosh pit of accomplished children’s authors and illustrators, and the proposal for WE’VE GOT A JOB had a terrific Austin-based booster early on: picture book/nonfiction author and Renaissance man Chris Barton.
MJ: What did you see in Cynthia’s proposal that spurred you to send it on to your agent?
CB: Cynthia’s materials — two chapters, an outline, and a bibliography — were simply outstanding. The topic was fascinating and undeservedly little-known, her treatment of the events was compelling, her voice was confident, and it was obvious how hard she had worked to polish those materials. Most importantly, I really enjoyed reading them and I was highly interested in learning the rest of the story. It was an honor to put her in touch with Erin and help get her proposal into Erin’s hands so that LOTS of us could read the rest of Cynthia’s story.
Part II: A Referral, a Tingly Feeling, and an Offer of Representation
Chris Barton’s agent is, of course, the queen EMU herself, Erin Murphy, whose track record speaks for itself.
MJ: You didn’t hesitate to sign Cynthia on as an EMLA client, lucky for us. Why were you so inspired by her proposal?
EM(U): The first thing is that it came on referral from Chris Barton. It’s always good when someone you trust says, “You have to read this,” or something to that effect.
The second was that the proposal was clearly written by someone who knew what she was doing, both in writing and research, and it was revealing an aspect of the Civil Rights Movement that I’d never been aware of. I had that tingly O.M.G. feeling mixed with a bit of panic that someone else would do it first. I couldn’t imagine a better topic for children’s books. The Civil Rights era and its major players have been covered so much in children’s literature, and here was a brand-new take with the most kid-interesting window that I could dare to imagine. This was a book that could change kids’ lives.
Part III: The Right Editor at the Right Time
MJ: What was your initial reaction to Cynthia’s proposal?
KL: Delight and exhilaration. I was already a bit obsessed with the Children’s March and had been trying to figure out who could write the story—and then there it was! The proposal started off with a bang, as the finished book does, introducing us to Audrey Faye Hendricks, who went to jail when she was just nine years old. Before I finished reading the proposal, I jumped up and ran down the hall to wave it in our publisher’s face and babble incoherently. Fortunately, she’s fluent in Kathy and understood what I was talking about. And she shared my enthusiasm.
MJ: Was there any one aspect of the proposal that compelled you to acquire it?
KL: I was already interested in the story of the event. I loved Cynthia’s approach, focusing on four of the participants and using their personal experiences to convey the enormity of the event. I was also impressed by the thorough and extensive research that she’d already done, and the way she had integrated so many important details into a compelling story.
MJ:What kind of impact do you hope this book will have on readers?
KL: I hope that readers will respond as I did—that they’ll jump up, run down the hall, and tell someone that they have to read this amazing book. I hope that, as I do, they’ll marvel at Arnetta, Audrey, James, and Wash and feel amazed at their maturity and accomplishments and grateful for their efforts and sacrifice. I hope they’ll realize (or be reminded) that individuals can make a difference, that people—including young people—can confront tremendous injustice and change the world for the better.
Contest! Free Book! Book Contest for a Free Book!
We’re giving away a copy of the book, including a nifty personalized bookplate direct from the author. To throw your hat in the ring, just leave a comment on this post. And as I mentioned earlier, there’ll be another chance to win a free copy on Friday. One way or another, however, you want to read this book and share it with the children in your lives. Raise a fist to the heavens and shout in triumph, blog readers – WE’VE GOT A JOB is worthy of all our praise and thanksgiving!
Three Starred Reviews
- Publisher’s Weekly
- Booklist (check back on Feb. 1, when it goes live)
- For other reviews, check Cynthia’s website.