mississippi morning

James William is a twelve year old boy living in rural Mississippi. He sees the men who trade at his father's store trying to deal with the realities of the Depression. He begins to hear stories of the burning of a black man's house and a hanging tree that grows by the river. 

James cannot believe that racial hatred exists in his own community until he comes face to face with a Klan member one early morning.

Mississippi Morning is a thought provoking story of one boy's loss of naivete in the face of harsh historical realities and will challenge young readers to question their own assumptions and confront personal decisions.

Ruth Vander Zee • author
Floyd Cooper • illustrator

Eerdmans Books,
Grand Rapids/Cambridge
ISBN 1-56846-176-3



Click here for the teacher's curriculum guide for Mississippi Morning.

The curriculum guide is also available from www.eerdmans.com/youngreaders.

Audio version coming soon.


  • Nautilus Book Awards, Finalist (2005)
  • Storytelling World, Award Winner (2006)
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2005 sponsored by the Children's Book Council and the National Council for the Social Studies.


Miami Herald: A powerful picture book about a 12-year old whose store-owner father chalks up racial hatred to hard times in the Depression-era South. October 9, 2004

Kirkus starred review: Racial prejudices and equal doses of a boy's naivete and experiences collide in a coming-of-age moment that calibrates his moral compass...Vander Zee tells the story without judgment; as in real life, the facts fall where they may and the conclusions the reader will draw are inevitable. Cooper is at his best with action, emotion, and perspective; design lets the art fill the book with color and life; and Vander Zee's dialogue crackles with import. Readers end with sympathetic feelings for James William-not only for the shaking of his social foundations, but the trauma of his father's lies. September 15, 2004

Booklist starred review: The setting of this book is Mississippi in 1933, and the drama of racist cruelty and a white child's loss of innocence is elemental...The subject will spark classroom discussion even among some young teens, and there are plenty of connections to history that teachers will want to make. For many young people, coming-of-age involves the discovery of weakness, failure, or betrayal in adult authority...Without diatribe or heavy message, Mississippi Morning brings urgent politics into personal life. October 15, 2004

School Library Journal: James, 12, lives in Mississippi in 1933. His father is influential in the community and owns a store in town. One day, a friend tells James that he overheard their dads discussing how a "colored preacher... got what was coming to him." James is also friends with LeRoy, an African-American boy, even though Pa feels that whites spending time with "colored folk" is not "natural." When James suggests that they fish near a particular tree, LeRoy objects, explaining, "That's where the Klan left a black man hangin' for a whole day because he did something they didn't like." Then one morning, James's faith and pride in his father are finally and painfully shattered when he sees him running home, carrying a rifle and wearing the white robes of the Klan. Cooper's large, warm oil paintings create the perfect sense of time, place, and atmosphere. Special attention is paid to the facial expressions of the father and son whenever they appear together. The final illustration shows a tree with a frayed rope wound around its lower branches. A sad and poignant story about a period in American history, and on a more personal level, a son's disillusionment. September, 2004

Best Children's Books of 2004 - Sue Corbett, Miami Herald