Review: Choosing Brave : How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy and Janelle Washington is a stunning picture book biography that captures a difficult lesson in American history for young readers in a remarkably age-appropriate way. Choosing Brave follows the life of Mamie Till-Mobley, who was the mother of Emmett Till. Emmett Till was a young Black boy who was murdered after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. Mamie Till-Mobley’s response to this tragedy ignited the Civil Rights Movement and caused her to become The Mother of The Movement.

Title: Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and
Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

Author: Angela Joy
Illustrator: Janelle Washington
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan Kids)
Published: September 6, 2022
Format: Picture Book

Choosing Brave documents Mamie’s childhood in which her family moved from Mississippi to Illinois during the Great Migration and follows along as she excels at school and graduates at the top of her class. Mamie becomes what many considered an “old maid” when she is unmarried at 18, so she is pressured to marry Louis Till. They have a little boy named Emmett shortly before Louis joins the army and leaves Mamie a widow at the age of 23.

Emmett is raised by Mamie and her mother, who cares for him while Mamie works. When he contracted polio as a child, Emmett recovered but developed a stutter. Mamie taught him a trick to help – by whistling, Emmett could take a moment to stop and get the words out. When he was 14, Emmett Till traveled to visit family in Mississippi, where his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River a little over a week after he arrived.

Since 1955, there have been many versions of the events that lead to the murder of Emmett Till. As someone who writes non-fiction, I know the challenges this kind of historical ambiguity can create for authors, but Angela Joy handles it flawlessly. She addresses the shifting story, but holds fast to the facts.

Even more impressive to me is the way that Choosing Brave handles the murder of Emmett Till in an age-appropriate way. When I say age-appropriate, I don’t mean that it is skipped over or minimized in any way. Angela Joy does not shy away from the brutality and injustice of Emmett Till’s murder, but directly addresses horrible truths that are too often left out of history books with poetic text. The juxtaposition of the beautiful lyrical language with the horrible act of violence is absolutely haunting.

The illustrations by debut illustrator Janelle Washington are absolute perfection. The paper-cut illustrations are so unique and incredibly moving on every single spread.

Choosing Brave captures the bravery, resilience, and grace of Mamie Till-Mobley, who shared her unimaginable grief and pain with the world. She bared her soul to the country and turned a tragedy into a movement for change. I have a feeling this book is going to win a lot of awards this year, and I cannot recommend it enough.

With extensive backmatter, including an author’s note, illustrator’s note, soundtrack, glossary, and timeline of the events of Emmett Till’s death (including the passing of The Emmett Till Antilynching Act in 2022) Choosing Brave is an absolute must-have for classrooms. I believe this is especially true for the classrooms of white children whose ancestors’ brutality and hatred are so often hidden from them “for their own good”.

It will be officially released next week (September 6, 2022), but you can preorder today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Roaring Brooks Press and Macmillan Kids for sending me a review copy of Choosing Brave. I am honored to share Mamie Till-Mobley’s and Emmett Till’s stories today.

About The Author:

Before graduating from the University of Minnesota, Angela Joy attended NYU and Spelman College. Angela then traveled as a background vocalist, also working in television and movie soundtracks. She lives in southern California with her family. To learn more about Angela and her work please visit her website at angelajoyblog.com.

About The Illustrator:

Janelle Washington is a self-taught paper-cut artist from Virginia. She has permanent silhouettes housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and Downing-Gross Community Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia. Please visit Jannelle’s website washingtoncuts.com for more information about her and her work.

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