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.

You Might Also Like:

10 Children’s Books To Celebrate World Day Of Social Justice

In 2007 The United Nations declared that February 20th would be celebrated every year as World Day Of Social Justice. Today is all about promoting the need for social justice, which include human rights, poverty, gender equality, unemployment, and more. In honor of this observance, I want to share a few of my favorite titles to inspired the next generation of change makers.

I tried to include something for all age groups (with the exception of young adult, because that’s just not my area of expertise). I should also note that I tried to steer away from picture book biographies for this list, because there are so many amazing stories of people fighting for change that I couldn’t pick favorites. This list is focused on titles that will encourage young readers to raise their voice, and speak up for the issues that are most important to them.

That being said, let’s get into my 10 picks for World Day of Social Justice.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission from purchases made, with no additional cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and continue bringing content to you.

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds (Bookshop | Amazon)

“In this empowering new picture book, beloved author Peter H. Reynolds explores the many ways that a single voice can make a difference. Each of us, each and every day, have the chance to say something: with our actions, our words, and our voices. Perfect for kid activists everywhere, this timely story reminds readers of the undeniable importance and power of their voice. There are so many ways to tell the world who you are… what you are thinking… and what you believe. And how you’ll make it better. The time is now: SAY SOMETHING!”

Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley, Adapter by Cedella Marley, and Illustrated by John Jay Cabuay (Bookshop | Amazon)

“A heartfelt and meaningful book that brings Bob Marley’s music to life in a new way: As a young girl goes on with her day in school, she comes across several instances of teasing and intimidation. But with loving action and some help from her friends, she’s able to make things right for herself and others. This cute children’s book includes the impactful lyrics of Bob Marley’s song ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ that has inspired millions of listeners around the world with messages of peace, love, and truth.”

Peaceful Fights For Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, Illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Protesting. Standing up for what’s right. Uniting around the common good—kids have questions about all of these things they see and hear about each day. Through sparse and lyrical writing, Rob Sanders introduces abstract concepts like “fighting for what you believe in” and turns them into something actionable. Jared Schorr’s bold, bright illustrations brings the resistance to life making it clear that one person can make a difference. And together, we can accomplish anything.”

Equality’s Call by Deborah Diesen, Illustrated by Magdelena Mora (Bookshop | Amazon)

“A right isn’t right
till it’s granted to all…

The founders of the United States declared that consent of the governed was a key part of their plan for the new nation. But for many years, only white men of means were allowed to vote. This unflinching and inspiring history of voting rights looks back at the activists who answered equality’s call, working tirelessly to secure the right for all to vote, and it also looks forward to the future and the work that still needs to be done.”

Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen (Bookshop | Amazon)

“With a spare, inspiring text and gorgeous watercolor illustrations, this is a timeless and important book for activists of all ages. This hardcover picture book is perfect for sharing and for gifting.

Sometimes people march
to resist injustice,
to stand in solidarity,
to inspire hope.

Throughout American history, one thing remains true: no matter how or why people march, they are powerful because they march together.”

Love Is Powerful by Heather Dean Brewer, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Mari is getting ready to make a sign with crayon as the streets below her fill up with people. “What are we making, Mama?” she asks. “A message for the world,” Mama says. “How will the whole world hear?” Mari wonders. “They’ll hear,” says Mama, “because love is powerful.” Inspired by a girl who participated in the January 2017 Women’s March in New York City, Heather Dean Brewer’s simple and uplifting story, delightfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a reminder of what young people can do to promote change and equality at a time when our country is divided by politics, race, gender, and religion.”

If You’re Going To A March by Martha Freeman, Illustrated by Violet Kim (Bookshop | Amazon)

“As more and more children attend the growing number of marches across the country, this cheerful guide serves as a great reference tool and conversation starter for youthful participants. Inspired by author Martha Freeman’s own experiences, this picture book addresses many of the questions kids might have: What should I wear? How will I get there? Where will I be able to go to the bathroom? Is it okay to dance? (Yes, it is!). All the while the text stays focused on the fact that the right to assemble is a Constitutional part of our life as Americans . . . whatever our political point of view.”

Together We March by Leah Henderson, Illustrated by Tyler Feder (Bookshop | Amazon)

“March through history and discover twenty-five groundbreaking protest movements that have shaped the way we fight for equality and justice today in this stunningly illustrated and sweeping book!
For generations, marches have been an invaluable tool for bringing about social change. People have used their voices, the words on their signs, and the strength in their numbers to combat inequality, oppression, and discrimination. They march to call attention to these wrongs and demand change and action, from a local to a global scale.
Whether demanding protective laws or advocating for equal access to things like voting rights, public spaces, and jobs, the twenty-five marches in this book show us that even when a fight seems impossible, marching can be the push needed to tip the scales and create a movement. This gorgeous collection celebrates this rich and diverse history, the often-overlooked stories, and the courageous people who continue to teach us the importance of coming together to march today.”

No Voice Too Small by Lindsey H. Metcalf, Keila Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Mari Copeny demanded clean water in Flint. Jazz Jennings insisted, as a transgirl, on playing soccer with the girls’ team. From Viridiana Sanchez Santos’s quinceañera demonstration against anti-immigrant policy to Zach Wahls’s moving declaration that his two moms and he were a family like any other, No Voice Too Small celebrates the young people who know how to be the change they seek. Fourteen poems honor these young activists. Featuring poems by Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorell, and Nikki Grimes. Additional text goes into detail about each youth activist’s life and how readers can get involved.”

Kid Activists by Robin Stevenson, Illustrated by Allison Steinfeld (Bookshop | Amazon)

“Every activist started out as a kid—and in some cases they were kids when their activism began! But even the world’s greatest champions of civil liberties had relatable interests and problems–often in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. Martin Luther King, Jr. loved fashion, and argued with his dad about whether or not dancing was a sin. Harvey Milk had a passion for listening to opera music in different languages. Dolores Huerta was once wrongly accused of plagiarizing in school. Kid Activists tells these childhood stories and more through kid-friendly texts and full-color cartoon illustrations on nearly every page. The diverse and inclusive group encompasses Susan B. Anthony, James Baldwin, Ruby Bridges, Frederick Douglass, Alexander Hamilton, Dolores Huerta, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Iqbal Masih, Harvey Milk, Janet Mock, Rosa Parks, Autumn Peltier, Emma Watson, and Malala Yousafzai.”

I hope this list helps you all find a few extra titles to encourage your young readers to speak up for the issues closest to their hearts.

What are your favorite books about activism and social justice? Be sure to leave them in the comments below!

You Might Also Like: