I received this book for free from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.How Do You Spell Unfair?: MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Frank Morrison
Published by Candlewick Press on April 11, 2023
Genres: Juvenile Nonfiction / Biography & Autobiography / Women, Juvenile Nonfiction / Language Arts / Vocabulary & Spelling, Juvenile Nonfiction / Social Topics / Civil & Human Rights
Source: Candlewick Press
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A Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
"This moving picture book portrays a girl who met injustice with dignity and excelled."—Booklist (starred review)
From a multi-award-winning pair comes a deeply affecting portrait of determination against discrimination: the story of young spelling champion MacNolia Cox.
MacNolia Cox was no ordinary kid.
Her idea of fun was reading the dictionary.
In 1936, eighth grader MacNolia Cox became the first African American to win the Akron, Ohio, spelling bee. And with that win, she was asked to compete at the prestigious National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, where she and a girl from New Jersey were the first African Americans invited since its founding. She left her home state a celebrity—right up there with Ohio’s own Joe Louis and Jesse Owens—with a military band and a crowd of thousands to see her off at the station. But celebration turned to chill when the train crossed the state line into Maryland, where segregation was the law of the land. Prejudice and discrimination ruled—on the train, in the hotel, and, sadly, at the spelling bee itself. With a brief epilogue recounting MacNolia’s further history, How Do You Spell Unfair? is the story of her groundbreaking achievement magnificently told by award-winning creators and frequent picture-book collaborators Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison.
Nonfiction Children’s Book Review
How Do You Spell Unfair? by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Frank Morrison is full of lots of opportunities for learning. From Black history to vocabulary to coping with disappointment, this nonfiction children’s book packs a big impact for readers young and old.
How Do You Spell Unfair? is the story of 8th grader, MacNolia Cox and her journey to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Through her journey you get to see how one middle schooler contributed to the Civil Rights Movement through her participation in a spelling bee.
The Importance of Community
One of the ongoing themes in the book that really stood out to me is how important the support of the Black community (both local and nonlocal) is to MacNolia’s journey. The story occurs in 1936, a time when segregation was rampant and Black people had to rely on the safety and support of the Black community for every day things.
Before she leaves for the spelling bee, her community celebrates her success and raise funds for her trip to D.C. When she gets to D.C. MacNolia and her mother have to rely on the Black community in D.C. for lodging because Jim Crow laws meant they couldn’t stay in a hotel where white people were staying. The community rallies behind her again when she returns by throwing her a parade. It’s a great opportunity to talk to children about how they see success, as well as why community is important.
Joy & Triumph in the Face of Racism
Speaking of community, MacNolia’s community really contributes to the joy in this book. Because MacNolia is cheated out of her win, there was a lot of potential for that to be the end of her story. For her ending to be one of defeat instead of triumph. But the same community that celebrated her entry in the National Spelling Bee also celebrates the fact that she gets so far and so close to winning the spelling bee. He just attending is a triumph! There are a lot of things in life that are unfair and the racism directed at young Black girl is one of those things. It’s important that her story doesn’t end at the spelling bee. It ends with a joyful celebration of her hard work.
Little Known History
Because How Do You Spell Unfair? isn’t a story that has been widely told, this is a book that both adults and children will be engaged in. I learned a lot and had never heard of the story of MacNolia Cox before. I also found it intriguing that it happened in the 1930s. We often associate historical moments like this with the 1950s and 60s so it is good for everyone to learn about Black history that occurred outside of that timeframe. This story is also powerful, because it showcases the bravery and dedication of a young girl, whose participation in the Spelling Bee helped integrate it for the first time.
Frank Morrison is one of my favorite illustrators! I love the illustrations in this book. They are worthy of being made into wall art. He captures the emotions and big moments powerfully. He is also the 2023 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book winner.
HAVE A SIP OF COCOA ☕…
Would I Read it Again: Yes and my 2nd and 4th grade children loved it! They were especially hooked because both of them have spelling word lists that they work on weekly so they quickly related to MacNolia.
Educator Recommendations: First, this is a great read aloud book because there are opportunities for interaction. Questions are spread throughout the book that ask “Can you spell…” As you read you could invite students spell the word with you or you could give individual students an opportunity to spell the word. There is also the history angle where students can ask questions and do further research into the spelling bee and segregation. It’s also a great conversation starter on how racism affected and affects children.
Looking for more books about Black History?
Check out these reviews: Children’s Book Arc Review: The ABC’s of Black History by Rio Cortez, Review: Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens, Review: We Are Here by Tami Charles, Children’s Book Review: You So Black by Theresa the S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D.