Mary Jane

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Twelve year old Mary Jane Douglas, a black girl who lives with her father, a lawyer, and mother, who was raised in the city, in the southern city of High Ridge, is visiting in the summer on the farm of her grandfather, a famous retired college professor. Her sister Lou Ellen is a nurse at a hospital in Philadelphia, PA, and her brother James is off studying to be a lawyer like his daddy. Having graduated from sixth grade at the black’s Dunbar Elementary School, she chooses in the fall to be one of two black students to go to the newly integrated Woodrow Wilson Junior-Senior High School instead of the black’s Douglass Junior-Senior High School because she wants to become a biologist and Wilson has the courses that she needs. All of her family, who have sheltered her from prejudice, have warned her not to do so, but she is determined to go.
However, when she and Fred Jackson, accompanied by their fathers, get to the school on the first day, she is unprepared for the crowd of yelling, screaming people expressing their hatred, and for the attitude of snobbery, coldness, and suspicion on the part of both many students and even some teachers which follows. There are times when she thinks of transferring to Douglass or even running away to Grandpa’s farm. Can she continue in the new school? Will she ever make any friends? And how can an injured squirrel help? Yes, we know that a certain degree of racial prejudice still exists today, although perhaps not as much as the present-day race-baiters among us want us to think, and it probably always will, but I doubt that kids nowadays can begin to imagine the kind of venom and vitriol spewed out against blacks in the early days of school integration. This book will give them a good idea of what it was like for black students living in those times.
A few common euphemisms (gosh, darn, gee) appear, but no cursing or profanity is used. Some men are said to smoke a pipe or cigars. However, church is very important in the lives of the Douglas family and their friends. Author Dorothy Sterling does a good job of blending common, everyday details into the action of the plot which makes the characters seem quite real and shows that while we may have differences we are all similar in many ways. I like how the book subtly demonstrates that bias can be a two-way street. It is just as possible for African-Americans to have a stereotypical view of whites as vice versa. And in all of her trials, Mary Jane learns the important lesson that everyone else has problems too. Mary Jane was a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee in 1961.


On the farm
The story of Red Anne
The surprise

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