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  • Written by Shana Burg
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  • Written by Shana Burg
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On Sale: June 10, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84893-3
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

IN KUCKACHOO, MISSISSIPPI, 1963, Addie Ann Pickett worships her brother Elias and follows in his footsteps by attending the black junior high school. But when her careless act leads to her brother’s disappearance and possible murder, Addie Ann, Mama, and Uncle Bump struggle with not knowing if he’s dead or alive. Then a good deed meant to unite Kuckachoo sets off a chain of explosive events. Addie Ann knows Old Man Adams left his land to the white and black people to plant a garden and reap its bounty together, but the mayor denies it. On garden picking day, Addie Ann’s family is sorely tested. Through tragedy, she finds the voice to lead a civil rights march all her own, and maybe change the future for her people.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

June 12, 1963
Now get this: there's a boy in Jackson so rich that when he finished high school, his daddy bought him a brand-new car. At least that's what I heard. In my family, we don't have that kind of money, but my uncle gives a whole dollar to any Pickett who graduates Acorn Elementary School. It's tradition.
So here I am, soaring through the sky on my swing that hangs from the oak tree, when Uncle Bump calls out the door of his shed, "Go on. Get your brother. He'll take you." He stretches a dollar bill between both hands and I jump right off. Sure it's not enough for a car, but that dollar can buy a whole lot of good, like twenty Hershey bars. After my brother graduated elementary school, he bought a baseball. But I'm not going to waste my dollar on something dumb. I want something important, like dye to turn my flour-colored dress new for the first day of school.
"Mama will be proud you're spending your dollar to make a bright impression at County Colored," Uncle Bump tells me.
"It's West Thunder Creek Junior High School," I tell him, and stuff the dollar into my sock. Sure I'm going to the Negro junior high school, but a school's a school. Folks should call it by its proper name and make it sound important.
"Don't dillydally, Addie Ann," Uncle Bump says. He pulls the harmonica out of his pocket and blows a chord. And it's real good to hear him sound those notes, because ever since our boss, Old Man Adams, got the whooping cough, Uncle Bump hasn't had time to play music. "Mama's bringing home some hen tonight," he says. Then he sinks down on the steps of his shed and slides that harmonica across his lips.
***
I'm heading across the tracks to the white side and I reckon some furry company won't hurt. My cat, Flapjack, and me have a secret code. When I whistle and click my tongue twice, he comes running. Tweet, click, click. Tweet, click, click. Other folk think it's magic, but here he comes, dashing across the pine needles, purring as he threads a figure eight round my ankles.
When we pass Brother Babcock's chicken shack, my stomach growls. And when we get to Daisy's Dry Goods, I kick up the dirt on the path, because I've been itching to buy a real new dress in there, but right about now, we don't have the money.
As always, once we cross the railroad tracks everything seems whiter and brighter, and I don't mean just the people who live here. The fresh-painted shingles and the white picket fences gleam in the late-afternoon sun. Even Flapjack's tan fur lights up a fiery orange. And my feet are glad to walk on pavement.
By the time we get to the edge of Mr. Mudge's place, the sun's diving into the horizon. Flapjack and me pass by Mr. Mudge's greenhouse and his stable full of cows and pigs, on the way to his farm where my brother works. "Now don't squish the squash," I tell Flapjack before we head across the leafy rows to meet Elias, who's bent like a rainbow over the tomatoes. He's been working this land since he was five.
"Uncle Bump says you've gotta take me to get the dye," I say, and hold up the dollar to prove it's true. But Elias stares straight past me like I'm not even here. Mama always says he's "half legs, half smile," but today his grin is gone. His eyes are sad and distant.
"What's a matter?" I ask. He's probably worried up about getting into college, so I tell him, "I bet you'll even get a scholarship to Morehouse. Then I'll come to Georgia and visit you and we'll--"
"Shut up," he says.
Usually Elias doesn't live on the edge of his mind like me, so right about now I don't know what to think.
"Don't you know 'bout Medgar?" he asks.
"What's that?"
"Medgar Evers got shot. Down in Jackson. Late last night. Someone killed . . ." His voice stretches and tightens. Then he swipes the side of his hand under his nose. That's what he does when he gets close to tears. Usually it stops them from sliding down.
Here one guy I never heard of gets shot dead, and now my brother's all ripped up and I'm just about crazy. "He a friend?" I ask.
"No."
"He owe you money?"
"No!" Elias rolls his eyes.
"Well, if he ain't a friend and he don't owe you money, what's a matter?"
"Don't you know anything?" he asks.
I turn away. Elias knows I know something. Otherwise, why did I get the highest score on the geography quiz in the whole sixth grade? Okay, sure there are only four kids in the sixth grade at the Negro elementary school, but still, a ninety-six is a ninety-six. I want to remind Elias of this but my throat squeezes shut. I swipe my hand under my nose but my tears get out anyway.
My brother puts his hands on my shoulders, tries to turn me round. "Sorry," he says. "Sometimes I forget you're a little kid."
"Seventh grade's not little," I tell him. Then I blink a lot to get the tears to stay inside. "Now come on. Tell me! Who's this Edgar Mevers?"
"His name is Medgar Evers," Elias says. "He's from the movement."
I nod so my brother will think I know what he's talking about. But I wonder why he can't answer my questions plain and simple. If he's so smart, why doesn't he tell me this: Why do they call it the movement? How can he swipe under his nose and stop crying? And why did Medgar Evers's mama give him such a silly name?
"Well, someone killed him," Elias says, and looks away again. "Left three young children without a daddy."
I reckon Elias probably knows how those poor children feel.


From the Hardcover edition.
Shana Burg

About Shana Burg

Shana Burg - A Thousand Never Evers

Photo © Gabriella Tal

Shana Burg is a writer who lives in Austin, Texas. She started her first novel, A Thousand Never Evers, while teaching sixth grade in Massachusetts, and she hired her former students to critique the first draft. “Their advice was right on the money,” she says. Prior to teaching sixth grade, Shana worked on a Mississippi community nutrition project, and at Facing History and Ourselves, an educational nonprofit. Shana majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated with a Master in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Simmons College.


I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1968. My parents had moved there from New York several years earlier so that my father could work as a lawyer in the civil rights movement. Although we moved to Massachusetts when I was still a baby, I grew up hearing amazing stories about the struggle for justice and equality. I remember my father talking about the segregated maternity wards in Birmingham, where white women could recover from childbirth in semi-private rooms with air conditioning, while black women were forced to recover in 16-bed wards in sweltering heat. It was stories like this that sparked my interest in the civil rights movement.

Some upsetting things happened during my middle and high school years that made me think a lot about discrimination and equality. For example, in high school social studies, we sat alphabetically by last name. It so happened that in my corner of the class were all Jews and an African American girl. My teacher called our corner “the ghetto.” He’d say, “Would someone in the ghetto like to answer this question?” And in gym class, during floor hockey games, boys shoved my close friend into the wall and whispered “Kike” in his ear.

In high school, as part of ninth-grade English, I took a class called Facing History and Ourselves. This course challenged me to see connections between events in history and the ethical choices I made each day. My teacher, Jan Darsa, actually talked about things that mattered: why friends turn on each other, why kids are afraid to stand up to bullies, and how easy it is to go along with the crowd. We talked about the Holocaust. And then we talked about how people throughout history have stood up and fought against injustice. That class had a big impact on me. (So much so that many years later, I went to work for the Facing History and Ourselves organization.)

Throughout my school years, I remained interested in human and civil rights. In college, during one spring break, my father brought my sister and me to Birmingham, Alabama, to meet his former law partner and his other friends from back in the 1960s. I remember driving by the Sixteenth Street Birmingham Baptist Church with a friend of my father’s. She told us she had been there the day it was bombed, and that one of her best friends, 11-year-old Denise McNair, had been killed. That really shook me to the core.

After college and graduate school, I got a job with a Mississippi community nutrition project. I was based in Boston, but spoke on the phone regularly with local residents of the Mississippi Delta. I had the opportunity to spend time in the Delta too. As someone who’d grown up in the Northeast, I was immediately grabbed by the warmth, friendliness, and good humor of the people I met there. And I was struck by the incredible poverty–poverty that I’d expect to see in a developing country. I was shocked that there were still segregated schools and towns divided between the black and white sides by railroad tracks running through the middle.

The more I learned about policy related to hunger, poverty, and education, the more I wanted to work directly with young people, so I decided to go back to school and get my degree in teaching. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I love being in the classroom. Talk about an adventure! You never know what’s going to happen on any given day. Middle school students are so creative, hilarious, and real.

It was spring. I was teaching a unit on elements of fiction to my sixth graders. I read picture books to help them understand plot, character, theme, conflict, setting, etc. For homework each night, I’d give an assignment that would help them develop their own creative stories. One day, in the midst of this unit, my students and I had the opportunity to visit with the incredibly talented author David Almond. We’d read his book Skellig aloud. Now I’d always written short stories, poems, and newspaper articles–and I can’t tell you exactly what David Almond said that did it–but I left his talk completely fired up to start writing a book for my students.

That afternoon, as soon as I got home from school, I did the homework that I’d assigned my class. That’s when this 12-year-old African American girl popped in my head. She was sitting on the bank of the bayou, absolutely panic stricken. At the time, I didn’t know who she was, what year it was, or why this girl was so freaked out. I started free writing to find out. Eight years later, I finished A Thousand Never Evers. Now finally, I'm thrilled to say, I'm ready to share Addie Ann Pickett's story with the world.
Praise

Praise

Starred review, Publisher's Weekly, June 9, 2008:
“References to significant historical events add authenticity and depth, while Addie's frank, expertly modulated voice delivers an emotional wallop.”


From the Hardcover edition.

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