Throughout the month of February, Our Little Sous and I have been purposeful about reading books that celebrate African Americans. Their incredible stories of ingenuity, courage, and sacrifice in pursuit of freedom, justice, and equality are all things we choose to highlight during Black History Month.
Make no mistake, we take time to seek out diverse books year-round. We are constantly in search of quality children’s literature that is filled with uplifting and inspirational stories with main characters that look like us. However, Black History Month is a special time during which we redouble our efforts to ensure that we read and share more of the tragic and triumphant tales that shaped the course of our passport country’s development.
I knew that this particular book would be one of my favorites before I ever even laid eyes on it. A friend from my hometown recommended it to me, with the comment that it mentioned Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter.
I WAS HOOKED!!!
I didn’t even finish reading the rest of her comments about it before I went searching for this title: ‘The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist,’ by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton !
I didn’t see that she had noted the fact that the book contained a recipe for the aforementioned bread. I didn’t read long enough to note that it had been her daughter’s favorite picture book of 2017. I couldn’t even be bothered to notice that the book’s subtitle indicated that this was, in fact, the true story of a young Civil Rights activist in the southern United States in 1963.
All of those things would come later. First and foremost in my mind was the fact that I desperately NEEDED to read any book that even casually mentioned HOT ROLLS BAPTIZED IN BUTTER!!! Fortunately, it didn’t take much to convince my son that this book would be something that we would both enjoy.
When Our Little Sous and I finally settled in to read this title, therefore, it was a bonus that the book discussed The Children’s March, which just so happened to be a major turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. It was a bonus that the book featured the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose “I Have Dream” speech we had listened to the previous month to celebrate the U.S. national holiday that commemorates his birth. It was a bonus that the book’s heroine was approximately the same age as he is when she first made waves as “The Civil Rights Queen” she would later become.
We had so many wonderfully enlightening conversations throughout the month of February that stemmed from the reading of this book and the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
We discussed the systematic inequality from times when slavery was legal that led to the development of Jim Crow laws in the States. Our Little Sous questioned me constantly while measuring out the dry ingredients for our dinner rolls.
We discussed the pressures that so many Black adults felt when contemplating the possibility of participating in the marches and protests of the time. We talked about the repercussions of one’s actions in the community back then, and the unfairness of there having been correlating disadvantages in the workplace and in the home for those who stood up for what was right. Our Little Sous reflected on these disturbing disparities while carefully pressing the fat into the flour.
We talked about how powerfully effective it was that so many children were willing to rise to the challenge of flouting authority and demonstrating peaceful civil disobedience in order to further the cause of justice and equality. We noted examples of many people throughout history who publicly stepped up because it was the right thing to do, even though it was inconvenient, uncomfortable, or even dangerous for themselves and their loved ones. Our Little Sous added the yeast mixture to help leaven the bread.
We discussed the fact that it is often necessary for people to get their hands dirty in pursuit of cleaning up the horrible atrocities of our history. He worked out that the peaceful protesters suffered the pain of beatings and hoses and lived through the indignities of imprisonment in order to prevent others from having to do so in the future. The he dusted his hands and work surface with flour in preparation for kneading the dough until it was nice and smooth.
We thought about the hurt and the heartbreak endured by those Civil Rights activists who were unlawfully cut off from their families and friends and interrogated about their motives, like Audrey Hendricks was in the story. Our Little Sous recalled similar discussions we’d had after reading books and stories about runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. He cut out rounds of dough and carefully placed them on our baking sheet.
We sang songs like “Wade in the Water” and remembered other gospel songs we’d learned that originated in the South, secret code that sounded like church music but was actually helping lead Blacks to freedom. Our Little Sous “baptized” the raw dough in the softened butter and we placed the tray in the oven to bake.
While the rolls were in the oven, we wiped up the flour from the counter and from the floor. We counted our blessings that we were born into and time when we *could* travel the world freely, without fearing the repercussions of the racist oppression that drove Audrey Hendricks to break the unjust laws that kept her from dong the same. Then we pulled the finished rolls out of the oven and set them aside to cool, marveling at the wondrous smells that must have welcomed that young freedom fighter home to her loving family!
Finally, it was time to eat! Our Little Sous rolled his eyes with delight as he sank his teeth into the Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter that he had helped to make for everyone to enjoy at dinner that night. He got to experience how the work of his hands could produce something that was so much more than a few bites of bread for an evening meal.
For the hour or so that we spent baking in the kitchen that night, we’d immersed ourselves in a different time and place.
We’d allowed ourselves to really spend time thinking about and discussing the difficulties of a life where one group of people made life-altering decisions for an entire group of people against their will.
We’d stretched our imaginations to put ourselves in the shoes of those who had peacefully, yet insistently, forged a path that would allow us to live the nomadic life that we currently enjoy.
And we relished the textures, sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of those beautiful Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter that welcomed a young Civil Rights activist home. Those warm and flaky first bites of buttery bread must have comforted Audrey’s insides almost as much as the hearty hugs with which her loving parents surely greeted her upon her return.
Scarfing down those delectable morsels with our dinner that evening, I really felt like I could taste the warmth of her homecoming. The steam swimming up from those savory circles smelled like sweet freedom!
The Black History Month lessons we extracted from this book and the bread that we baked in conjunction with it are a lot like the Books and Baking series of events we conducted regularly at our international Montessori school in Japan over the years.
Have you got a favorite children’s book you’d like to recommend to us here at Our Kitchen Classroom? It doesn’t necessarily have to have a recipe mentioned in the story or listed at the end. We love all sorts of literature, and we know there are valuable lessons we can glean from each and every story. However, if there is a recipe for anything that sounds as enticing as Hot Rolls Baptized in Butter, you can be sure we will read it. We will make it. We will devour it!
Happy reading and happy baking, from Our Kitchen Classroom to Yours!