by Kristin Levine
On summer nights when Marlee hears the lions in the Little Rock Zoo roar through the open windows she feels safe. She is comforted by the normalcy of that wild and confident sound.
Words are not Marlee’s thing. She doesn’t like to talk to anyone beyond her family and few friends. In Marlee’s mind words are easy to confuse. They are unclear and imprecise. Numbers, on the other hand, are constant and steady. They are reliable and relaxing. Marlee will need their support to get through the next series of changes in her life. Marlee brother is off to college. The night before school is to start, Governor Faubus announces that in an effort to preserve local control and southern traditions, the high schools will not open. Until the issue of integration is settled high school students will remain at home. Marlee is beginning middle school, but her sister Judy will stay at home.
Marlee’s dad supports the integration of schools. Marlee’s mom is not so sure. Tension is high at home, in her school and her town and rising. When Marlee goes off to school she promises to say at least five words. She says them to a new girl, Liz. From then on Marlee’s life is never the same. She learns about courage, commitment and conviction. She learns that a wrong left unaddressed can lead to greater wrong. She also learns that it is never too late to right a wrong. It is always the right thing to do.
Marlee’s struggles to overcome her fears and stand up for justice reveal the stories of others in her life. At first they are each alone as they deal with the uncertainty, tension and bitter conflicts that surround them. But later they learn by coming together they will be able to accomplish something to establish social justice.
The Lions of Little Rock is something for everyone to read – to know what it is to be a friend, to know what it is to make a commitment to others, to know when others are more important than yourself. How do you overcome your fears? How do you step in and take action? How do you know it IS up to you? This is a dazzling look at a piece of our past that we must continue to examine today. Is there ever a place for hatred?