Never Stop Singing

Published in 2016; author Denise Lewis Patrick; illustrators Michael Dwornik and Julie Kolesova


It's New Year's Eve, 1963; the day before Melody turns 10. She's finally old enough to attend Watch Night at her church, a remembrance of when free and enslaved black people waited for New Year's Day 1863, when President Lincoln would officially announce the Emancipation Proclamation. At the service, the pastor encourages his congregation to use the gifts and talents God has given them to change the world for the better. (Speaking of gifts, one important gift she gets is a pouch of heirloom seeds, from Miss Esther, an older family friend.)

Maybe Melody will have a chance to teach people about her heritage when her teacher announces they'll be celebrating Negro History Week in February (the name and duration for it at the time). Maybe she can do something related to how her cousin's family is facing discrimination in their house search. Maybe the community meeting about businesses that snub minorities will give her ideas. Then inspiration hits: fixing up a nearby playground, so it can be a gathering place for everyone.

Melody's sister Yvonne encourages her and gives her some tips, and Miss Esther helps Melody prepare a speech to give to the Block Club, a group of adults committed to advancing civil rights in their community. She ends up president of the Junior Block Club, but finds leadership more difficult than she anticipated. The opportunity to sing back-up on her big brother's singing group's first recording. And Melody's cousin and her family find a great house they can make an offer on. Things start looking up as spring marches on.

But then Melody gets a letter from the parks department: there's not enough available funds to replace the aging swingset. When Melody expresses her disappointment to Miss Esther and her parents, they discuss the possibility that the funds aren't available for parks in black neighborhoods. They also encourage her to continue making the park a beautiful place, even if she's not able to get everything she wants. After all, there are those heirloom seeds...

Just when Melody's gotten her team excited to beautify the existing playground, the parks department locks the gates. Apparently the swingset is too dangerous. The Junior Block Club composes letters to the department: they can't ignore the club forever. A letter from Melody's oldest sister inspires her to spread the word, to get even more letters sent. Melody even gets a local radio show to mention the letter-writing campaign. After a flurry of letters and phone calls, the parks department removes the broken equipment--and the lock. So summer begins with the project in full swing, Melody's sister Lila completing a year of her private school program (she won a scholarship), her oldest sister Yvonne securing a teaching job in the south during Freedom Summer, and Dwayne finally getting the official album of the song he and Melody recorded.

Melody and her parents take a summer trip with her cousin's family to her grandparents' old farm in Birmingham, for the Fourth of July holiday. Despite the shadow cast by the suspicious disappearance of three civil rights workers, celebrating freedom is extra-special for African-Americans this year, with the signing of the Civil Rights Act (one character points out that the real trick will be getting everyone to follow the law). In the midst of the festivities, the family learns that Yvonne's been arrested, for "disturbing the peace" and has broken her wrist during the arrest. Her parents are able to get her out, and while they're very worried for her safety, they agree that Yvonne's an adult who can make her own choices. Yvonne spends a little time with her family before returning to Freedom Summer.

Back at home, the seeds planted at the playground have sprouted and are mostly doing well. Melody needs to teach her team a bit about gardening (for example, the best time to water), but they've done well in her absence. A summer storm threatens a setback, but the Junior and original Block Clubs spruce it back up.

Soon the park is ready for a grand opening party. The radio show host herself shows up, with a proclamation from the mayor announcing the park reopened and named for the Junior Block Club! She also gives Melody a check to buy some new equipment ($75, almost $575 in 2016). The book ends with Melody and her brother singing the song they recorded earlier, onstage for the crowd.

Inside Melody's World

June, July, and August of 1964 came to be known as Freedom Summer for civil rights activists. Volunteers toured the country to educate about the contributions minorities had made to society and to champion equal rights, especially registering African-Americans to vote. Not everyone was welcoming of their presence. Some were heckled or arrested on false charges. Three young men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared in late June. Their bodies were found in August. Despite the high profile of the murders and the widespread belief that the perpetrators were members of a conspiracy rooted in the KKK, only one man was ever convicted of the murders. In 2005. Forty-one years after the fact. The crime was part of a large resistance to the Civil Rights Act, a resistance which continues today.


This book is dedicated "in friendship to Sharon Shavers Gayle and in gratitude to the unforgettable Mr. Horace Julian Bond."

Melody's birthday is January first, same as my best friend. And a very convenient birthday, as I discovered when calculating the ages at date of death for several deceased family members. "19xx-18xx is--wait, had she had her birthday yet?"

So we skip not only the winter holiday story, which is always my favorite to read about, but also the assassination of JFK, a huge historical event.

Funny story related to JFK: when I was about Melody's age, my mom asked my dad where he was when Kennedy was shot. Of course, she was asking because it's one of those moments almost everyone who lived through remembers, just how people can vividly recall how they found about September 11, 2001. But I didn't get that at the time, and thought she was asking because she seeing if my dad had an alibi!

Several prominent African-American figures are name dropped. My favorite of the innovators is Charles Drew, who had a profound influence on blood transfusion. I donate blood, so that one's close to my heart (literally). (His death was not the result of discrimination, contrary to popular belief; his injuries were too severe for that to have been a factor) Jesse Owens, too; as I did track and field. Another athlete, Tommie Smith, would rise to fame for giving the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics--and I have his autograph.

The letter-writing reminds me of Andy Dufresne's strategy in The Shawshank Redemption. He writes a letter a week to secure funds for a prison library, and his persistence is eventually rewarded with some money and letter than ends, "Please stop writing."

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