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Inside Practically Paradise

Ruby Bridges, Racism, New Orleans & Cheerleaders

Sometimes I read a book that has an impact on me and I want to blog immediately, but can’t My Mother the Cheerleader By Robert Sharenowbecause I am torn by the emotions provoked from reading. My Mother the Cheerleader by is a perfect example. Most people blogged about this book last year. I set it aside for summer.  I was impacted by My Mother the Cheerleader but also confused, disturbed, upset, uncertain, enlightened,  empowered, emboldened, determined, fired-up, convicted, and impassioned. 

High school librarians take note of this title. I’m pondering putting it in my middle school library for 8th grade, but I am wondering about the maturity level of the reader. Tell me what you think. There is violence, strong language, and rape. The violence and language are true to the events and time period. The rape is not dealt with as we would in today’s world.

If I were in high school, I’d be encouraging teachers to buy multiple copies and incorporate it into literature lessons and social studies. The author’s perceptions and character development are the stars of this book. Segregation is portrayed from an inside view where "everyone" accepts segregation as the way things are supposed to be. The abrupt ending bothered me so I put off blogging about this. The ending is not a clear cut conversion to the side of good, but leaves you unsettled much like the people were unsettled during this time period.

Rather than portray the issue of segregation and racism from a black & white point of view, Robert Sharenow has filled in all the degrees of gray.  I don’t want to give another re-hash of the content of the title. Instead I want to share some other perspectives of this title. Below I’ll include some blog links so you can read more, but I also encourage you to explore GoodReads. This website is much like LibraryThing and other sites where you can share your library and your opinion on books you’ve read. The range of reviews and opinions is much broader. You won’t find only positive reviews, but you will read from a wider variety of public readers (not just librarians, critics, and educators). I don’t always agree with the reviewers. That’s okay. I don’t agree with all of Amazon or even SLJ ALL the time. I like the diversity of voice.

Go read Robert Sharenow’s interview to learn more about the title and read an excerpt. Sometimes I’m playing with publisher sites and I just want to see if the stuff they have on their website with flash player, etc. really embeds as easily as they say.

Other blogs are talking about this title. I decided to look through what they said and share with you the meat of their reviews or what I think of as the deciding point – when you decide whether it’s worth reading or not. 

Books in Abundance  "An unflinching look at hate, violence, and courage—My Mother the Cheerleader is a tour de force that shows just how slow, confusing and dangerous change can be."

The Compulsive Reader "This compelling debut of a novel paints an extraordinarily candid picture of life in the segregated South. Sharenow’s portrayal of the characters, right down to the dialect, is completely real. Louise’s voice is an entertaining and believable one. This incisive, alarming, and very readable take on what really happened at William Frantz Elementary is a powerful one, and not to be missed."

Becky’s Book Review "The world is a cruel, cruel, place and this atmosphere is deadly serious about staying segregated. There is language–strong language, racist language; there is violence–even sexual violence. So this novel isn’t for everyone. But while the pictures it paints are never pretty, it captures the brutal reality of America’s past. The good. The bad. The ugly. It is all here."

GoodReads Be sure to read Katie’s perspective. 

Look Book: YA Books and History written by a teenager "I can’t recommend this book more. I gave it a five on goodreads- it is amazing. This is one book I will definitely be buying. I can’t believe that it did not win a Printz honor at least. This is one major contribution to young adult literature. Highly recommended. Named one of the best books of 2007 by School Library Journal, My Mother the Cheerleader is one book you don’t want to miss."

Hypothetically Speaking "This book does not white-wash the era, but the first person narrative does present a different perspective, that of a thirteen year old girl. There is no happily ever after, it would be inappropriate and disrespectful. However readers are left with the impression these characters have been challenged to look at their long held beliefs."

Children’s Book Page "In My Mother the Cheerleader, first-time author Robert Sharenow brings readers into the heart of America’s civil rights battle. Sharenow succeeds where few authors have dared to venture—crafting a convincing first-person account, and opening a window of understanding toward people supporting the wrong side of historic issues."
What did I learn from reading the blogs? Some people liked it. Some didn’t. Some opposed reading a title on segregation told by a 13-year old white girl. Some recommended Sharon M. Draper’s Fire from the Rock. I  loved John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley when I read it 22 years ago, but I don’t recall reading the passages about the Cheerleaders in New Orleans. The concept of people accepting segregation is too difficult to grasp. I have been chatting with teachers and grandparents of students when they suddenly reveal they attended segregated schools in Nashville. Perhaps it’s my age and where I grew up, but  I struggle to understand how people "accepted" this. 

I needed to read My Mother the Cheerleader to gain a broader insight into the society of the time of school desegregation. I read "sometimes her cheers came out so full of foul language that the newspapers couldn’t even print the words." How can anyone’s mother act like that and taunt a six-year old girl (Ruby Bridges)? 

Other literature is part of this novel. Louise, the 13 year old main character, reads Jane Eyre and is a bit more intelligent than others. Does reading help her escape her life of bedpans and waiting upon her mother while fearing the gentlemen callers? "I  also needed to stay alert for my own protection." 

Naivety is intertwined in this tale. Louise rides her 1955 Schwinn Spitfire, pretends to be the first lady agent in the FBI, and keeps spy logs. She is surprised to discover their "help" has an opinion on racism and segregation. References of the time are rife: Korean conflict, baseball, hatred of Communists, Jews, northern manipulators, and the Supreme Court, KKK, lynching, and "race traitors".   That was a new term for me. 

Louise is given an autographed copy of Grapes of Wrath and encouraged to read it. My oldest son read that when he was 12 and I remember wanting to tell him he was too young to be exposed to the realities of immigrant labor, poverty, and violence. Instead I was available while he read. I’m glad I read My Mother the Cheerleader even though it was difficult to be exposed to the "wrong side" of history.

Am I sad that I wasn’t the first reviewer? Not really. I had time to develop my own reaction to the title. I read it this summer because I was teaching elementary age children before and knew this title wasn’t going into that collection. Now that I’m officially moved to middle school, I can focus more on controversial and in-depth titles for the YA crowd. 

I realize that some bloggers ONLY blog about new titles – they even have strict time limits for pre and post publication. I’m not going to limit myself. Brian Kenney and I met for breakfast during ALA and he re-confirmed with me that I have total freedom of speech on this blog. I am not speaking for anyone, any organization, any group, any affiliation. If I want to criticize SLJ, books, or events, I can. If I want to write about my cats, I can. You the reader can choose which posts you read all the way to the end. Thanks for getting this far with me.


  1. TERRI KIRK says:

    Diane, I am not sure about the suitability for middle schoolers but I did think that it was a powerful book. I was expecting a little more light hearted affair with the title, but I loved it!