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Cover image for The lions of Little Rock
The lions of Little Rock
Publication Information:
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2012.
Physical Description:
7 sound discs (ca. 72 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:

Compact discs.
Added Author:
In 1958 Little Rock, Arkansas, painfully shy twelve-year-old Marlee sees her city and family divided over school integration, but her friendship with Liz, a new student, helps her find her voice and fight against racism.


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Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958. Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter.


Everything's changing for twelve-year-old Marlee. Her brother's gone off to college and her sister's moved out of the room they've shared since Marlee was born. To Marlee, it feels like her whole world's falling apart.
On top of all that, she's starting middle school and has to break in new teachers--teachers who don't yet know Marlee doesn't talk. At least not until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say, especially to the resident mean girl, Sally. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her fear of speaking. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was really a colored girl caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

Author Notes

Kristin Levine debut novel was The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, which was featured on the American Library Association¿s 2010 list of Best Books for Young Adults. She received the New York Historical Society¿s Children¿s History Book Prize for The Lions of Little Rock novel.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Successfully weaving historical events with a dynamic personal narrative, Levine (The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had) offers a riveting, frequently tense portrait of 1958 Little Rock, Ark., the tumultuous year when the governor refused integration by closing local high schools. The story is told through the sensitive voice of painfully quiet 12-year-old Marlee Nisbett, who makes a rare friend in Liz, a new student at her middle school. Liz instills some much-needed confidence in Marlee, but when it's revealed that Liz is "passing" as a white student, Liz must leave school abruptly, putting their friendship to the test. The girls meet in secret, and Marlee joins an antisegregationist organization, both actions inviting serious risk amid escalating racist threats. Levine's characters fall on both sides of the integration issue, but she avoids painting them too broadly, and many of their views evolve over the course of the book. The best evolution, though, belongs to Marlee, who starts off almost pathologically shy and gradually learns to face her fears, find her voice, and speak up for what's right. Ages 10-up. Agent: Kathryn Green Literary Agency. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In 1958 Little Rock, Marlee, a shy twelve-year-old white girl, is befriended by new girl Liz. When discovered to be passing for white, Liz withdraws from school. Trying to keep their friendship alive, the ever-well-intentioned Marlee almost gets Liz killed. While purposiveness sometimes intrudes, the story is involving and the setting well realized. (c) Copyright 2012. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

In Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958, as politicians rage for and against the struggle to integrate schools, Marlee, 13, is a math whiz but she has a personal problem with mutism she's terrified to say things aloud in public. Then she makes friends and more importantly, talks with Lizzie, the new girl in her middle school, who encourages Marlee to even do an oral presentation in class together. Then one day Lizzie is thrown out of school. It turns out that she is a light-skinned black passing for white, and the locals refuse to follow the federal integration order. (Several kids and rabid adults use the n-word.) Marlee and Lizzie meet secretly, until it becomes too dangerous, with threatening phone calls and the KKK always around. Marlee discovers dynamite in a classmate's car, and yet still the police do nothing. Marlee's first-person narrative brings home the standoffs with classmates, family, and officials, but what is most moving is that while most do not change, some do. Readers who want more about the history can start with the long final note and bibliography.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

I HAD two near-simultaneous thoughts upon closing Kristin Levine's latest novel, "The Lions of Little Rock." The first, as a reader, was simply, Ahhhhh. The second, as a writer, was of admiration. Creating a book that reads as though written in one effortless breath requires a rare talent. It is also fitting that I finished reading the novel just as our nation was celebrating Martin Luther King's Birthday. It was King who sent a telegram to President Eisenhower urging him to ensure the safety of the black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, at a previously all-white school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. Levine's tale takes place at a junior high school in the same district one year later, against a backdrop of racial tension and the continuing battle over school integration. Chock-full of historical references, the narrative reflects substantial research. This story could have been a didactic one. It could have preached progress over stagnation, tolerance over bigotry, community over divisiveness. Levine ("The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had") certainly weaves these ideals throughout, but they never overshadow what is most important here, a friendship between two people so strong it can overcome the worst of storms. We learn straight off that 12-year-old Marlee Nisbett finds it so hard to connect with people that she has accepted a subservient role to Sally McDaniels ever since she was 5 and Sally first pushed her off a slide. "She likes to boss you around," Marlee's sister observes, advising Marlee to find better friends. Marlee's internal response ("That was true. But she was also familiar. I like familiar") shows a mind-set so firmly entrenched that it foreshadows a major personality shift. Marlee, desperately shy, protects herself well, reciting prime numbers in her head rather than having to talk to other people. That is, until a new girl named Liz comes to school. Liz, all confidence, strides right over to Marlee, who is sitting alone at a lunch table and eating a bag lunch because, as she explains it, "I didn't like to tell the lunch ladies what I wanted." Without thinking, Marlee opens her mouth and says to Liz, "Please sit down." With these three words, an extraordinary friendship is born. Liz recognizes a fellow hard-working, intelligent student in Marlee. She comes up with a plan to cure Marlee of her fear of speaking and gets her to agree to a joint project, to be presented aloud to the class. But on the day of the presentation, Liz is inexplicably absent. Her secret, it turns out, has been discovered and she's been pulled from school. "It's called passing," Marlee's black housekeeper, Betty Jean, explains. "Some Negroes who are really light skinned and have straight hair try it." MARLEE is devastated Eventually, she and Liz devise ways to see each other, but the stakes get higher as they are caught by their families as well as a teenager who threatens them and ultimately throws a stick of dynamite through a window in Betty Jean's house. Trusting her own convictions but aware of the danger around them, Marlee realizes: "Doing the right thing was harder than I'd expected it to be. And more confusing too." Marlee and Liz's love for each other, the lengths they are willing to go to fight back against the injustice of their plight, and the larger integration struggle playing out in Little Rock drive the book's story. Readers will root for a painfully shy girl to discover the depths of her own courage and find hope in the notion that even in tumultuous times, standing up for the people you love can't be wrong. Satisfying, gratifying, touching, weighty - this authentic piece of work has got soul. Tanya Lee Stone's "Courage Has No Color: The Untold Story of America's First Black Paratroopers" will be published next winter.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-In 1958, a year after the Little Rock Nine made national news by attending Central School, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the city's public high schools closed rather than permit integration to continue. Kristin Levine's well-researched, detail-packed historical novel (Putnam, 2012) reveals the events of that "lost year" as seen through the eyes of Marlee Nisbett. The 12-year-old rarely speaks to anyone outside her close family, and she's so shy that she eats a packed lunch simply to avoid having to tell the lunch ladies what she wants. On her first day at West Side Junior High, Marlee meets Liz, a new student. Liz is bold and outspoken, and she takes on the task of getting Marlee to talk in front of the class so they can give a presentation together. But Liz is absent on the day of the presentation, and the teacher tells Marlee that her friend will not be returning to school. Rumors begin swirling that Liz is a black girl passing for white. Determined to hold on to her new friendship, Marlee contrives ways to see Liz. Before long, their families' concerns about the girls' safety if they are seen together are proved warranted. Marlee discovers that she is strong enough to overcome her fears, and that if she wants things to change, she is going to have to speak up. Julia Whelan brings Marlee to life along with a range of secondary characters. The chatty first-person narration works well in the audio format. The author's note and suggestions for further reading are included at the end. A compelling look at a little-known but important year in our country's history.-Beth Gallego, Panorama City Branch, Los Angeles Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

(Historical fiction. 10-14)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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