Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Appomattox Revisited: The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

We believe that it is our sacred duty to our brothers of African descent to continue teaching them our ways, including our religion, our principles, and our civilization.

We believe we owe it to these visitors to our shore to continue bringing them along, civilizing them as we give them opportunities for honest labor and the fruits of our fair country. To this and this alone, we owe it to ourselves to break the treaty with the Northern states and to do our duty as Southerners.
--Alvin McCraney and the Sons of the Confederacy

When Mrs. Maxwell, principal of Harlem's Da Vinci Academy for the Gifted and Talented, divides the eighth grade into Union and Confederate sides for their unit on the Civil War, she's looking for a creative way to motivate her students to get into the weeds of that epic struggle. Instead it looks as if she's scripted Civil War Two, the Sequel.

Cocky jock Alvin McCraney, always considered something of a closet racist, feels himself enabled to put his beliefs in a flimsily disguised article in the school newspaper, The Palette. Most of the students outside Alvin's circle are uncomfortable with his stance, and some are about ready to rumble. Alvin claims First Amendment rights and, anyway, he says, he's just role-playing in the spirit of their history assignment. And Vice-Principal Culpepper backs him up.

But the canny Mrs. Maxwell sees an double opening here. Zander Scott and his friends, staff of the school's alternative publication, The Cruiser, are in both editorial and academic hot water, and she offers the group a chance to redeem themselves--if they can find a way to mediate both the McCraney matter and the mock Civil War itself.

The Cruisers may not be the most dedicated of academic stars, but they have plenty of smarts and talent on their side, and Zander manages to come up with a plan of passive resistance to McCraney's white supremacists that averts all-out war at Da Vinci and in their Civil War unit as well--and wins for his friends and himself a good chance at graduating from the Academy.

Score one for non-violence and for the adroit award-winning Walter Dean Myers, who negotiates the urban school scene with insight, empathy, and intelligence. His latest, Cruisers Book 1 (Scholastic, 2010) is an impressive beginning to what is intended to be a series involving this engaging group of gifted eighth graders.

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  • Sounds like another great book from Walter Dean Myers! Interesting enough...I was Mrs. Maxwell the principal at a charter school in Arizona!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:54 AM  

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