Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham


Dreamland Burning is a fascinating story about the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. This was a precarious time in our past when the KKK was starting to rear its ugly head.  It is paired with a modern day story of what racism looks like in our world today.  We learn of Will, in 1921, who is the son of an Osage Indian woman and a white man who likely married her because of her wealth from the oil discovered in Indian lands in which she had part ownership.  We also get to know Rowan, who lives today, who is the daughter of a black woman and a white man.  Both characters have to make tough decisions about how to do the right thing in the face of a world that doesn't always agree with who they are.

I loved the mystery in this book.  As the details of the skeleton found under the floor in part of Rowan's house are discovered, we are constantly flipped back into 1921 to try and piece out all of the details.  The clues that we are given in Rowan's time are just enough for us to think we know what is going to happen to Will in 1921.  But Latham does a fanstastic job of keeping us guessing until the very end when we discover exactly who that skeleton belongs to and how that person really died.    

I love learning about American history.  I especially love learning about parts of our country's history that are not commonly known or understood.  For instance, when I ask students what they know about Japanese internment camps during WWII, most of them just stare right through me.  It always floors me that in 5th and 8th grade, when students are supposed to learn American history, the parts of WWII that are taught the most are Pearl Harbor and all of the atrocities that took place in Europe.  American racism isn't something that textbooks and teachers like to talk about.  But there is a quote in this book that really made me think.  

"I understand now that history only moves forward in a straight line when we learn from it.  Otherwise it loops past the same mistakes over and over again." -- Rowan, Dreamland Burning

I feel like we have been looping past the same mistakes for some time now.  And it only seems to be getting worse.  That's the reason I work to find fiction that I can put in the hands of my students.  Reading a textbook and listening to a lecture isn't going to teach teenagers about some of these buried parts of our past.  But, hopefully, getting to know characters who have lived through it will somehow make a dent in the amount of history that is not being taught.  Maybe then we can straighten out that line and move forward.

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