Reviewed by Brad Manker
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Book Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
From the award-winning author of dozens of books, including Unspeakable — The Tulsa Race Massacre, Voice of Freedom — Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, and Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, comes another inspiring episode in Black history. Weatherford and Morrison tell the tale of MacNolia Cox, an eighth grader from Akron, Ohio, who placed fifth in the National Spelling Bee in 1936. Weatherford cleverly challenges the reader to spell various thematic words that add structure to the story arc, including “racism” and “discrimination,” and ending with “amazing” and “proud.” As a read-aloud, this provides interactive opportunities for engagement. With each successive win, the dedicated adolescent challenged widely promoted racist stereotypes and demonstrated that Black children were just as smart, capable, and driven as their white counterparts — which, as Weatherford succinctly states — was her triumph. Her achievements in the face of pernicious discrimination make her ascent even more satisfying.
Cox, Akron’s first African American spelling bee champion, earned hometown fame and recognition. Her success also provided her with a chance to travel outside her community. After crossing the Mason-Dixon line en route to the National Spelling Bee, Cox and her mother endured discrimination every step of the way. Train cars, hotels, the spelling bee banquet hall and its elevator, and even the national spelling bee stage were segregated. Both Morrison and Weatherford paint Cox as a proud, courageous young girl who, with the support of her family, stood strong in the face of extraordinary pressure.
Brad Manker serves as a fellow with Teaching for Change. He is an educator, curriculum designer, and independent researcher with a background in elementary education.
How Do You Spell Unfair?: MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee by Carole Boston Weatherford
Published by Candlewick Press on April 11, 2023
Also by this author: Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library, Voice of Freedom, Unspeakable
From a multi-award-winning pair comes a deeply affecting portrait of determination against discrimination: the story of young spelling champion MacNolia Cox.
MacNolia Cox was no ordinary kid.Her idea of fun was reading the dictionary.
In 1936, eighth grader MacNolia Cox became the first African American to win the Akron, Ohio, spelling bee. And with that win, she was asked to compete at the prestigious National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, where she and a girl from New Jersey were the first African Americans invited since its founding. She left her home state a celebrity—right up there with Ohio’s own Joe Louis and Jesse Owens—with a military band and a crowd of thousands to see her off at the station. But celebration turned to chill when the train crossed the state line into Maryland, where segregation was the law of the land. Prejudice and discrimination ruled—on the train, in the hotel, and, sadly, at the spelling bee itself. With a brief epilogue recounting MacNolia’s further history, How Do You Spell Unfair? is the story of her groundbreaking achievement magnificently told by award-winning creators and frequent picture-book collaborators Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison.
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