Allison's Book Bag

Beyond Mayfield by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Posted on: April 3, 2012

Except for the racism, Meg seems to have a pretty normal school girl’s life in Beyond Mayfield by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. As much as anyone, Meg appreciates a day off from school due to a blizzard and can’t wait to get out in the snow with the Mayfield gang. Well, in chapter two, there are hints that something unusual is afoot. In that chapter, we hear about Old Hairy Slater, who is a counterpart to Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet it still really isn’t until chapter four that anything much happens beyond everyday neighborhood antics. However, once school starts up again, Beyond Mayfield becomes a blend of childhood fun and moments of prejudice.

In chapter four, racism is tackled upfront with a brief conversation. An older brother of a friend is back from the Navy and asking the Mayfield gang about school. One of them responds that their problems are because of their color. In the next chapter, we learn that Meg is also experiencing prejudice from a teacher. Somehow, in Mrs. Davis’ class, Meg always became the center of attention when the word “slavery” or “Negro” came up. Modern news reports suggests that this situation still happens today. In a later chapter, we learn that Meg’s brother is also being discriminated against. To encourage the children, their parents tell them, “…. some people won’t believe you’re as smart or as good as everybody else because you’re colored. So you’ll have to work harder to show them.” Just recently, my husband and I watched a movie in which the same thing was said about girls. What examples of prejudice have you encountered? The last example of racism involves an incident with one of the older members of the Mayfield gang, who decides to join the Freedom Riders.

Prejudice is tackled in other ways in Beyond Mayfield. For example, Beyond Mayfield is set back in the 1950’s when Americans worried that there would be war with Russia and that atomic bombs would be dropped on the United States. Some of the student conversations center around attitudes towards Russians. One student declares that, “The Russians are crazy. If they get mad enough, they’ll do anything. They don’t care about being bombed on, as long as they get us.” Another student tries to convince everyone that Russians are just people, but Clayton will hear none of it. He even brings up horror stories about life in Russia, if one speaks up against the government. And then there’s Old Hairy Slater. He is based on a real character from Nelson’s life, whom the neighborhood kids circulated horror stories. About him, Nelson says: “He never did anything to justify our fear; he just was.” Isn’t that often how prejudice works? 

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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