By Jeri Watts
Middle Grade fiction
Ages 9 and up, Grades 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2012
additional formats: e-book, audio
Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year *Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies *Parents’ Choice Awards Recommended
Kizzy Ann Stamps is a strong girl who hates dresses and her annoying neighbor Frank Charles but loves her border collie to distraction. She’s also a girl with a distinctively scarred face that makes her stand out – exactly what she doesn’t want as she prepares to attend the formerly whites-only school in her town.
Jeri Watts’ novel is set in 1963 rural Virginia, just as public schools are beginning to integrate. Thanks to Miss Warren, who has taught at the black school for thirty-seven, Kizzy Ann is required to write a letter to her new teacher, Miss Anderson, who will teach the first integrated classroom. With each letter, Kizzy Ann reveals her skill as a southern storyteller. Her stories of her life’s daily trials not only flesh out her family, the black school, the library, and the appalling neighbors, but they also give name to the fears and misgivings of being asked to step into a hostile territory every day. This is the Virginia where a school must designate one out of every three bathroom stalls for use by black children, the Virginia where a black child can get spanked publicly for sassing a white man, the Virginia where an athlete like Kizzy Ann’s brother James, can never earn a place on his high school varsity football team, regardless of his skill.
Through all of this, Kizzy Ann enjoys the faithful companionship of her dog, Shag, who keeps dangerous neighbors at bay and who puts his life at risk for hers. In turn, when it is time to fight for Shag’s right to compete in dog trials where he will surely shine, Kizzy Ann finds her strength to prove that they both have a right to be there.
This lovely debut middle grade novel brings a piece of Virginia’s difficult racial history into focus for young readers, never an easy task. Yet at its core, Kizzy Ann Stamps is the story of a strong girl with the voice and courage to make change happen. MM
Listen to an audio excerpt from Kizzy Ann Stamps.