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Ronald Kidd - June 2020

Talking Racism in a COVID Classroom

Each of the last two springs, I made a virtual trip to Fulton Avenue School #8 in Oceanside, New York, to talk with sixth-grade students about my novel Night on Fire, depicting the Freedom Riders.  

For the event, set up by teacher Ivy Cibrano, families would read the book together, then gather in the school auditorium to discuss the story and the all-important topic of racism. I took part via the Internet, answering questions and posing new ones, projected as a giant head at the front of the auditorium, my version of the Great Oz.

The Pandemic  

This spring, because of the pandemic, the students had been studying from home, but Ivy was determined to continue our annual event. In April she sent me an email:     

“These are unprecedented times and the students are loving your book. It makes me so happy to watch their reactions and hear their comments. I am videotaping myself reading the book aloud. They watch the video and respond. Once a week we have a virtual book talk. I would love to surprise them when we finish and invite you to our virtual book discussion.”

I was all in. A week before, Ivy sent me a page of the kids’ favorite quotations from Night on Fire. I was gratified to see their choices:  

“First you dream it, then you build it.” – Ema
“There are two kinds of people in the world: watchers and riders.
     I want to be a rider.” – Noah
“Keep trying. Keep the faith.” – Ebonny
“The bell was silent, but inside me it kept on ringing.” – Kyla

The Visit

The day of the event, I combed my lengthening hair, plopped down in front of the computer, and entered their virtual classroom. There were cries of what, I’m hoping, were surprise and delight. I dove into their discussion, and they fired off questions—good ones, questions that challenged me and made me think:

“Would you like to go back and travel with the Freedom Riders?”
“When you were our age, how were African Americans treated?”
“Why is the story narrated by Billie (who is white) instead of by
     Jarmaine (who is black)?

I answered as best I could, encouraging the students to be riders, not watchers, and to keep reading. Next spring, Ivy and circumstances permitting, the families will meet in person, and I’ll join them once again to discuss the always crucial, always current topic of racism.

Interview   

In case you missed it the first time around, here’s an interview you might enjoy about my most recent novel, Lord of the Mountain, conducted by stellar children’s book reviewer Deborah Kalb. 

Kalb: How did you come up with the idea for Lord of the Mountain, and for your character Nate?    

Kidd: Several years ago my editor, knowing how much I love biography and music, sent me a present: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music, by Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg.   

What a wonderful book! In my imagination I bounced along dirt roads with the Carters in 1927 as they traveled to Bristol, Tennessee, for the recording sessions that became known as the “big bang” of country music. After the sessions, I hitched a ride with A.P. Carter and his African American friend Esley Riddle as they drove into the hills and hollers, seeking out songs for the Carter Family to record.   

By the time I returned from my travels, I was determined to write a book about these people and the music they created.   

Read the full interview   

Now Available

  • Lord of the Mountain
    The “big bang” of country music in 1927 at Bristol, Tennessee.
    Read more
  • Room of Shadows
    Edgar Allan Poe returns and gets the glorious death he deserved.
    Read more
Learn about my books, plays, and music at ronaldkidd.com.
Download a sampler of chapters from three of my latest books.

Copyright © 2020 Ronald Kidd, All rights reserved.


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