Love Is Loud: How Diane Nash Led the Civil Rights Movement****

Just in time for Dr. King’s birthday! This lovely biography by Sandra Neil Wallace introduces a little-known leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash. Nash fought for equal rights for people of color, and had a significant part in the changes that were won.

My thanks go to Simon and Schuster for the copy I received for review purposes. This book is for sale right now.

Most of us have never heard of Nash, who was active during a time when Black people and women were sometimes overlooked, and at other times, excluded in historical narratives. She grew up in the South side of Chicago, where there were many skin colors and cultures, but not many Caucasian people. It was when she went to college in Nashville that she gained firsthand experience of Jim Crow laws, which required separate (and generally inferior) facilities for African-Americans. And Diane was having none of it.

This sumptuously illustrated picture book details the key stages of her development and achievements. My one concern is with the references to “love” in the title and text which are never explained. Is the love in reference to her religion, a philosophy, or something else? The word is thrown in there several times with no context at all. If her mission was to bring change about using nonviolent methods, as Dr. King chose to do and encouraged others to do as well, it is not mentioned. Did she see Gandhi as a role model? We aren’t told. Instead, it appears that the word is injected to sanitize, to offset the word “fight,” perhaps because this story is written for young people. But children aren’t stupid, and without any cohesive portrayal of Nash’s character and underlying motivation, I fear they may forget her. Literature has power, and so although I am glad to see Nash introduced to young people, the effect is diluted when proper character development—which is necessary, even in a children’s picture book—is not provided.

That said, the literacy level is perfect for upper elementary students, and would also make a fine read-aloud for a teacher to frame a single lesson around. It would also be first rate for a sub plan, and teachers know that’s something we always need on hand.

Bryan Collier is the illustrator, and his artwork fills every inch of every page, with the text superimposed on top of it. This is lush, gorgeous work that elevates the story with its presence.

Recommended for classrooms, libraries, and to parents and other guardians of children in grades 4, 5, and 6.

Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, by Michael G. Long ***-****

peaceful neighborI confess I was intrigued by the title and description of this biography. Mr. Rogers came on television when I was entering adolescence, and so I didn’t watch it for myself. When I had children of my own, I tried to limit their time spent in front of TV, and so I tended to watch Sesame Street with them and then reach for the off button. But my son wanted to see Mr. Rogers, and I confess that although the magic escaped me—who wanted to watch this dull man with the puppet on his hand, seriously?—my son, who was three years old, thought differently. I watched the little smile play on his lips as Mister Rogers spoke to him, face straight into the camera. It made my kid feel better. And so I decided to plunge into this biography and see if I could figure out what made the show so appealing to little kids. I went all the way through a Master’s degree in education and came out still clueless, so why not? Thank you to Net Galley and Westminster John Knox Press for the DRC. The title was published in March and is available for purchase.

On the whole, I never did find the magic, but from an analytical standpoint, I could see where the work done by Fred Rogers was effective. He treated small people with respect. He was an expert in the psychology of very young children, and his show was crafted around gently, reassuringly addressing some issues that parents might not know how to talk to their children about. This is not to say that he had a superior attitude or spoke down to parents, when he acknowledged our presence, but I was a mom who had spent my entire pregnancy unemployed, sitting around the house reading books about pregnancy, childbirth, and the raising of young children, and I had no idea that my son had been afraid he might go down the drain after the bath was over. And I watched his little face light up when Mr. Rogers sat at the piano and sang, “You can never go down, never go down, never go down the drain!”

The first twenty percent or so of this biography deals with Rogers’ religious beliefs, and I nearly had to stick myself with a pin to stay awake through it. The guy was a pacifist, and so although he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, his belief system and his quiet, subdued manner was largely that of the Friends, or Quakers. So for those who have a strong interest in examining the intricate details of faith as it relates to war and children, this will be more absorbing than it was for me.

Just at about the point at which I had decided that grabbing the galley had been a mistake—seriously, 176 pages and I had only read twenty percent? It felt like forever—and gave myself permission to skim and review this thing, it became more interesting. And although I think the author very much overstates his case in calling Rogers “subversive”, I agree that he openly, if subtly and carefully, disagreed with Presidents Reagan and HW Bush about the wars in the Middle East, and before that, with the Vietnam War. He never carried a sign, our writer points out several times, but chose to work behind the scenes and to use his television show as a platform for peace.

“War isn’t nice.”

He was no radical; during the Civil Rights movement, rather than encourage integration, he held fundraisers to buy supplies for the African-American schools that were separate and entirely unequal, to try to level things out a little bit, one school district at a time. Good luck with that.

But the real gift that he gave to small children was that of absolute acceptance. Children were valuable no matter what they looked like. He acknowledged that we feel mad sometimes, and talked about ways to work out the mad without hurting anyone. He recognized that sometimes girls want to play with machines, and sometimes boys might like to hold a doll, to dress it and pretend to feed it. His was a gentle persona, and he let everyone know that men can also be nurturers. And when a company presumed to use his likeness on a tee shirt with a gun in his hand, he took their ass to court and made them not only stop selling those shirts, but destroy every last one they still had in their possession or for sale.

He also had blind spots. He was raised in a wealthy family—Mr. McFeely, the neighborhood postal character in the Make Believe neighborhood where Mr. Rogers filmed, was also the name of his grandfather, who built the family fortune. And at Christmas time, the staff of Mr. Rogers’s TV show each got a nice card with a note saying he had made a gift in their name to a charity; but one of the staffers pointed out to the author that some of them were paid very low salaries, and sure could have used the holiday bonus instead.

A documentary that was filmed about Fred Rogers was made with the understanding that the cameras must not show “the tasteful opulence of my home”.


The writer does a fine job of analyzing where Fred Rogers stood on all of the key issues of the day before his rather sudden death due to stomach cancer. If this man was important to you, or if you have an interest in the connection between social justice and religion, or children’s television shows, this might be a great book for you. If you are not interested in religion, you may want to skim through the first chapters and get to the meatier parts.

Either way, Fred would’ve liked you exactly as you are now.