Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books-
If ever there was a book to inspire future social justice activists, it is Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden. This book also offers insight into a portion of African American history that we don’t often have the opportunity to read about in young adult literature. Saving Savannah takes place right after the end of World War I and the protagonist, Savannah, is growing up in a very wealthy African American family in Washington D.C. While the book primarily focuses on discrimination within the African American community between white collar and blue collar workers, readers also gain new knowledge of racial discrimination within the women’s rights movement.
Bolden alternates the perspective of Savannah, who is interested in learning as much as she can about the issues of the working class, and Savannah’s best friend Violet, who would rather remain solely within high society. One of the themes of this book is looking outside of one’s own experience to gain insight into the lives of others. This is a timeless idea and one that seems particularly relevant to young adults who are making choices about how they will relate to the world around them. Savannah chooses to open her eyes to different experiences, while Violet continues on the path that she views as normal.
Tonya Bolden is known for her diligent research efforts to create historical accuracy within her books. This research work is evident throughout Saving Savannah which introduces well and little known historical figures to young adult readers. Individuals such as W.E.B Du Bois have been huge influences on the lives of Savannah’s parents, but she finds heroes of her own. Nannie Helen Burroughs is one person who Savannah chooses to learn more from on her quest to greater independence. The Author’s Note at the end of the book provides excellent details about this time period and its influencers.
Saving Savannah certainly doesn’t make advocacy look easy, which is a good thing because activism never is. Savannah faces emotional as well as physical danger when she makes the choice to stand up for what she believes. This is something that activists, young and old, still face today and it is important that this is reflected accurately in literature for young adults. Bolden does a remarkable job of showing what it means to have the courage of one’s convictions.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.
Diversity 10: I understand that diversity includes the impact of unequal power relations on the development of group identities and cultures.
Justice 15: I can identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.
RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).