Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud (Candlewick, 2012)

Recommended for ages 5-10.

There are so many children's books about Martin Luther King, and I would never have guessed from the appealing cover illustration on this title that this was a book that touched on civil rights and especially on Dr. King.

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend, is a delightful historical fiction picture book which tells the story of an ordinary mule named Belle who leads an extraordinary life in the small town of Gee's Bend, Alabama.  At the beginning of this tale, we meet Alex, a bored  young boy who is waiting for his mother to buy one of the famous quilts that Gee's Bend is known for.  With nothing to do but watch an old mule, he's happy to listen to an old lady from the town tell him a story about why the mule, who's eating her greens, is so special.

It turns out that Martin Luther King visited Gee's Bend to encourage its black citizens to vote.  But when whites got wind of the voting drive, they shut down the ferry that crossed the river to Camden, where voting took place.  That didn't stop the courageous citizens of Gee's Bend, who hooked up wagonloads full of people to mules, including Belle, to go around the river to vote.  But that wasn't the end of Belle's special mission; she was also called upon as one of a team to pull Dr. King's coffin through the streets of Atlanta during his funeral parade.  Alex learns an important lesson from this touching story: even an old mule can be a hero.

An author's note provides further details about Belle's story, particularly how Dr. King himself wanted mules to pull his casket when he died, with the mules serving as a powerful symbol of King's fight to help poor blacks across the country.

Belle pulling Dr. King's casket

1 comment:

PragmaticMom said...

Wow, I love how there are so many aspects to MLK's story and I love how a mule can be a hero. It's so true, that this great man can make us all heroes by being such an inspiration.

I'm sure he would have loved this story!