BOOK REVIEW: “We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963” by Shelia P. Moses
circa 2022, Penguin Young Readers
Sometimes you burn with incandescent anger.
So many roadblocks in front of you, so much injustice, damage and danger. One day this old world will be yours, and you wonder what state it will be in. Will the changes be made by the adults or the children as you will have to make them? Answer: Read “We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963” by Shelia P. Moses and put on your work clothes.
For 11-year-old Rufus Jackson Jones Jr., life on Bull Hill in Birmingham was a struggle, but his family pulled through. His mother worked hard at home and at the steel mill, where Rufus’ father died a few years ago. So Rufus and his little sister, Georgia, helped as much as they could to lighten the load.
Rufus thought a lot about his father.
He thought even more of his father when a man came to visit his mother. He wasn’t happy about his mother remarrying, but Rufus grew to appreciate the man he eventually called “Papa Paul.”
He was pretty excited, then, when Dad Paul found a new home for the family in Ivy Town – one with electricity and a bathroom! Don’t share a room with Georgia anymore! It took dad Paul courage to even ask about the house; it was owned by a white woman who also owned the steel mill. But Miss Frances was a kind woman, and she insisted on helping Rufus’ family as much as she could.
She even helped with the steps.
For weeks, the adults of Bull Hill talked about Dr. King and the wave of change that was coming. They planned to join Dr. King on the marches; quiet meetings were held in secret places and the elderly saved money for bail to get their loved ones out of jail. What the adults didn’t know was that the teenagers planned to walk.
They also didn’t know that the children would be there too…
The opening pages of “We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963” move fast – almost too fast, for adult sensibilities. That’s when you remember that this is not an adult book.
No, there’s an adult theme to the book, but it’s simplified as author Shelia P. Moses tells this story from the perspective of a teenager who’s burning to help make the change he knows must come. . The story, the event that is in the title of the book, is almost a parallel story to the beginning of this tale, running alongside the fiction of the novel until the two merge with a crash. At this point, parents will be happy to know that the real events are authentically told in this book, but softened for its 8-12 year old audience.
Perfect for young readers of history-based fiction, this book will also appeal to anyone who needs a black history lesson. If that’s you or your kid, ‘We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963’ is second to none.