August 11, 2021 7:36 AM EDT

Mildred D. Taylor mined her own family history to write this Depression-era novel about a Black family’s battle to keep the 400 acres of prime farmland they own in rural Mississippi. While the land is the source of the family’s pride and livelihood, high tax payments are a perennial worry, and their status as Black landowners makes them the target of racist attacks. The book’s 9-year-old narrator, Cassie Logan, both personally experiences racism and bears witness to its violent consequences in her community: Black students are whipped over minor infractions, Cassie is thrown to the ground by a white man after she bumps into his daughter in the road, a Black boy faces a lynch mob after robbing a store and the Klu Klux Klan is a constant, menacing presence. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which became a Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award winner and was a finalist for the National Book Award, has become a classic in the four and a half decades since its publication in 1976, helping generations of young people understand the vast gray area between slavery and freedom for Black Americans in the Jim Crow South. —Shay Maunz

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