It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. For now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change and that she should be part of the movement.
SK: Midnight Without a Moon, Linda Williams Jackson’s debut middle grade novel, released in 2017. Its sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, released January 2, 2018. I had the pleasure of talking to Linda about her debut.
Midnight Without a Moon is one of the most powerful middle grade novels of 2017. It highlights the injustices of the past and makes you think about the injustices going on currently in our world. How did you get the idea for the premise?
LWJ: First, thank you for your kind words.
As a native of the Mississippi Delta, I have always been fascinated with the idea of placing that setting in a novel. The Emmett Till murder was a natural tie-in since the Mississippi Delta is where the tragedy occurred. The main character, Rose, and her family dynamics are somewhat representative of my own family. Having grown up in a family who was not involved in the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted to make Midnight Without a Moon a different kind of civil rights story—a story where the main family was afraid to rock the boat for fear of losing that tiny bit of their own version of “the American Dream.” Therein lies the conflict for Rose. She wants change, but she is stuck living with people who do not.
I actually got the idea while reading Vernon Jordan’s memoir Vernon Can Read. In it he said that his family was not concerned about what white folks were or were not allowing black folks to do (re: Jim Crow laws). He said they were living their own version of the American Dream. When I read this, I knew immediately that this would be my conflict for Rose as well.
SK: In the book, Ma Pearl is not interested in change. I sensed that was partially due to the fear of repercussions for challenging the status quo. Why was it important to have a character like Ma Pearl in this story?
LWJ: This goes back to the Emmett Till murder. When I learned the details of the murder, I asked myself how this could happen. How could Emmett Till’s great-uncle, Mose Wright, allow two white men to take his nephew when he knew what could happen?
Fear. Plus, a certain level of trust.
Fear. The kidnappers had loaded weapons. They threatened to use them. Mose Wright knew that it was quite possible.
Yet, there was a certain level of trust. They said they only wanted to “talk to the boy.” Mose Wright, through years of living in that environment, had hopes that this was true.
I’m sure that many people question why Emmett Till’s Mississippi relatives allowed him to be taken from the home. Through characters like Ma Pearl, I hoped to shed some light on why people behaved the way they did and why some were afraid to work towards change.
SK: I imagine much of your research for Midnight Without a Moon involved researching the Civil Rights Movement. Was there anything you learned about it through your research that you weren’t aware of before?
LWJ: The main thing I learned is how little I knew about the Civil Rights Movement. Therefore, I did my best to incorporate a great deal of what I learned into the story in order to educate my readers. One thing that really stood out for me was the connection between Mississippi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery bus boycott. I write about this connection in the sequel, A Sky Full of Stars.
SK: It is so interesting to me how relevant historical fiction can be. Why do you think historical fiction is important for middle grade readers?
LWJ: Historical fiction, in my opinion, is a more engaging way for middle grade readers to learn history than simply from a textbook or even a biography. With nonfiction, an author must stick with the facts. With historical fiction, an author is able to create a story around the facts. This “created” story lends itself to be more engaging—more sensational—than the factual story. Historical fiction places the reader in the characters’ shoes, so to speak. It takes them back in time and allows them to experience the story as it unfolds.
SK: What lessons from Rose’s journey toward activism can young readers apply to their own lives?
LWJ: Not everyone will be bold, nor brave enough, to do the big things, nor will everyone be in a position to do so. There might be barriers in the way, and these barriers could include family members. But stay in the fight and do what you can—even small things. In the sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, readers will get to see how Rose helps out in a small way that makes a big difference.
SK: What advice would Rose give readers who are struggling to find their voice?
LWJ: Figure out what it is you want to lend your voice to and in what way. Maybe you want to stay in the background and help a family member do better the way Rose does in A Sky Full of Stars. This, too, is progressive movement. Every little bit helps.
Midnight Without a Moon
by Linda Williams Jackson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
A Sky Full of Stars
by Linda Williams Jackson
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: January 2, 2018