Another informative and delightful outing with Sarah Hardstaff.
As all researchers know, it can be difficult to explain what you’re working on. The subject matter is fine: “children’s literature”. Everyone knows what that is… or at least they think they do. But describing your actual project is much trickier. This seems to be especially true when talking about theory (stock three-word answer: “economics in fiction”) or methodology (the slightly less professional-sounding: “I count verbs”).
In my case, this problem is compounded by British acquaintances not having read the American books that I’m working with. But there is one book on that list that people always, always recognise: Mildred D. Taylor’s 1976 classic, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
In part this is because Roll of Thunder is used so often in the classroom and was a GCSE set text until relatively recently. But it also stems from a genuine love of the novel, its characters, its setting and its strong anti-racist message.
There is one scene from the novel that every reader I have spoken to remembers. Every time the bus provided for the whites-only school passes Cassie and her brothers on the road, the driver deliberately swerves towards them, covering them with dust and mud, sending them scrambling up the roadside, much to the delight of the passengers on board. One day, after heavy rain, the children take their revenge by digging a huge hole in the road. The bus drives straight into the hole and, of course, gets stuck.
Seeing adults’ eyes light up as they picture that scene is just one of the pleasures of doing research with Roll of Thunder. There are many more. Such as: did you know there was a 1978 TV movie adaptation of the novel? Starring a young Morgan Freeman as Uncle Hammer?! Yes, I have a copy, and yes, you can all come and watch it with me.
In fact, you can come and talk all things Taylor for two whole days at Homerton this September. We’ll be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Roll of Thunder with a special symposium, featuring talks, papers and workshops for researchers and teachers.
We’re taking Taylor’s work as a starting point, but will also be exploring a whole range of issues relating to children’s literature, teaching English Literature and representation and diversity, so there’ll be something for everyone! Find out more about the event here, and register for your place here.