Monday, June 23, 2014

Kissy Ann Stamps by Jerri Watts

I spent a long time reading Kizzy Ann Stamps - over a week.  Not because I wasn't enjoying it but because I just didn't want it to end - this is the mark of a truly wonderful book.

Kizzy Anne is an African American girl living in the 1960s. She is part of a world where people are treated differently and at times very unfairly just because of the colour of their skin.  Kizzy Ann has a voice - she expresses her confusion about life and her hopes and dreams through letters to her new teacher Miss Anderson and later through a journal.  The letters begin on July 1, 1963 and by September Kizzy Ann and hopefully some other students will move to a 'white or integrated school.'.  Early on Kizzy Ann asks the teacher about bathrooms.  "I know I can't use the ones in town, no matter how bad I have to go... Am I going to have to hold it all day?"  The teacher writes back (we don't read these directly but Kizzy Ann relates their contents) to say there will be one stall out of three set aside for the black kids.  This may give readers a small insight into the life and times of Kizzy Ann.

We have be talking about African American rights with our Grade 5 students this term and learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.  This little book, Kizzy Ann Stamps, is the perfect way to extend an understanding of this complex time in history.

Kizzy Ann has one very special and loyal friend - her dog Shag.  "Shag is the only one in the world who doesn't sneak glances at my scar.  She just looks me in the eye, dead on, and I prefer that.  You'd think I was a monster, the way people slide their glances around at me."

As a nine year old Kizzy Ann was helping with the harvest on the next farm belong to a white man called Mr Feagans. His son, Frank Charles, also loves Shag and on the day of the accident he knocks into Kizzy Ann and she falls onto a scythe that they have been using to cut the corn stalks.  "My scare is sizable, I suppose.  People do stare.  And it aches plenty when the weather socks in. Mama calls me Moon Child, because the scar is shaped like a crescent moon."

Kizzy Ann is a gifted student and a hard worker but there is so much to adjust to in her new school.  She is forced to wear a hand-me-down dress from a rich white classmate and has to endure teasing and some bullying but she also she excels at spelling and wins the spelling bee. Sadly she cannot attend the finals  "I should have known that winning the spelling bee wouldn't have meant I could really go. Of course they wouldn't have a way to reserve a room for a black girl in the hotel."

Kizzy Ann meets other injustices.  She has to ride in the back of the bus and suffer some abuse from the bus driver, she is not allowed to try clothes on in a dress shop - this horrified me "Folks like us aren't allowed to try on clothes in a dressing room.  The owner of the store doesn't want to clothes to actually touch our skin. He says ... he can't sell the clothes we don't buy if they've touched our skin.  So we either have to pick something of the rack and buy it or we put it on over our own clothes right there in the middle of the story and you have to wear long sleeves and gloves to try things on, so your skin and 'body oils' don't 'soil' the clothes."

The really special part of this story, though, comes from her relationship with Shag and the hard work they put into competing in a local dog and sheep show.  This reminded me a little of the wonderful book Shiloh.

Here is a detailed review which will give you more of the plot. I especially liked the way Jerri Watts wove all the historic details into this story while at the same time giving the reader a very satisfying story and a beautiful character to love.  Here is an excellent power point lesson plan.

If you enjoy Kizzy Ann Stamps I also recommend Walking to the bus rider blues which we also have in our library and for an older audience -  The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963.

The vivid historical setting of this short and satisfying read will leave readers feeling they have experienced life in Kizzy Ann’s world.

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