Follow the Leader



Book: Follow the Leader

Author: Vicki Winslow

Illustrator: Colin Bootman

Publisher: Yearling, republished in 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0385322850 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0385322852 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0440412960 Paperback

ISBN-10: 044041296X Paperback

Language level: 5

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 10 and up; I would say 15 and up

Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Winslow, Vicki.  Follow the Leader (published in 1997 by Delacorte Press, a trademark of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY  10036).  It is 1971, and eleven year old Amanda Adams lives in Windsor, NC, with her dad Michael, a builder, her mom Jannette, he seventeen year old sister Laura, and her cat Ted.  She and her best friend Jackie Charles look forward to going into sixth grade.  However, that fall Windsor schools are being desegregated, and instead of going back to formerly all white West Windsor Elementary, which would now be only for all first through fourth graders, they would be going downtown to formerly all black East Windsor Elementary, which would now house all fifth and sixth graders.  Then Jackie announces that her parents are sending her to a new, all white private school called the New Canaan Academy at the New Canaan Christian Church.  Thus, Amanda must face public school alone.

Can Amanda maintain her friendship with Jackie?  Will she make any new friends?  Will she make any enemies?  And how will she be able to face the challenges of classroom tension, early adolescent insecurities, and confronting prejudice even in herself?  I have read other youth novels about desegregation, but all of them approach it from the viewpoint of black children.  This is the first one I have seen to present the standpoint of a white child.  While the rationale behind forced integration as discussed ed in the book is decidedly from the liberal side of the political spectrum, Follow the Leader is a basically interesting story that is marred by a few small but jarring irritants.  One of the assignments for Amanda’s class is to learn teamwork by helping each other climb over a wall on the playground in a certain period of time. When she and a black classmate, Henry Bailey, are practicing, he tells her that he will help “to haul your skinny a** over.”   Uh, in a book for sixth graders?  The vulgar word is used only once, but it is noticeably there, sticking out like a sore thumb.

Someone is said to curse a few times, but besides this one glaring vulgarity and a couple of common euphemisms (danged, gee), there are no other language issues.  However, when a shocked Laura sees Amanda and Henry practicing, Henry walks away and says, “I wasn’t trying to rape nobody.”  Also references occur to someone who smokes cigarettes, to people who use drugs and marijuana, to pretending to do a striptease, and to some of the changes that occur in an adolescent girl’s body.  Publishers Weekly says that the book is for Ages 8-12, but because of the language and other thematic material, I would not recommend it for anyone under 15.  On the other hand, the Adams family does attend church services regularly.  The book, which won the fourth annual Marguerite de Angeli Award and is listed in Best Books for Young Teen Readers: Grades 7-10 by John T. Gillespie (note: TEEN readers, not Ages 8-10), shows youngsters how life really was back in that era.

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