Introducing the novel to my students this year brought back memories of when I first shared it with a group of sixth graders in 1994. The story is as powerful as it was then and just as meaningful as when I read it as a middle schooler myself. The themes of family loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice are timeless.
Despite the fact that our population is more diverse than in 1976, the year the book was published, Cassie Logan still stands resolutely as one of a relatively small number of female African American protagonists, still providing a much needed mirror for children looking to see themselves reflected back in the books they read. That need has never been greater as illustrated by the results of the 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey conducted by publisher Lee & Low or the grassroots campaign by eleven-year-old Marley Dias to collect 1000 books with black girl protagonists (she's currently received over 4000 books--500 of those unique titles).
In honor of the anniversary, Penguin Young Readers is holding a contest in cooperation with We Need Diverse Books for unpublished "talented, ethnically diverse authors writing for readers ages 8-14." Taylor's own manuscript for Song of the Trees, a prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, was discovered through a writing contest in 1974. It is a fitting tribute to honor that achievement by extending an opportunity for new diverse writers to have their work read and published.
For more information about the writing contest, visit http://www.rollofthunderbook.com/.