The Cycle of a Dream

A Kid’s Introduction to Structural Racism in America

Children - Social Issues
32 Pages
Reviewed on 12/31/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

The Cycle of a Dream: A Kid’s Introduction to Structural Racism in America by Kimberly Narain is an easy and direct short book describing the origins and the development of systemic racism in the United States. It is beautifully illustrated by Mike Motz, who demonstrates and focuses the reader’s attention on the topic under discussion. The book hits all the high-water marks of this disgraceful history without oversimplifying them too much. Though it places the onus of the ingrained system on whites, understandably so, it makes clear that not all whites have been prejudiced. Dr. Narain defines key terms: settler, slavery/slave, slave master, plantation, abolitionist, segregation, white flight, protest, and boycott. Though condemnation of white domination is inferred, the tone of the book is not accusatory, but leaves little doubt, especially in the illustrations, of where proper blame lies. But Dr. Narain does not leave us with a feeling of accusation but with a hope that by most people using her list of actions racism can finally be overcome.

As I (a white) read through this book, I tried to imagine myself back in the fifth or sixth grade when actually I was reading oversimplified and highly idealized biographies of our presidents. I’m pretty sure I would have come out of this book with a different attitude than I began, a clearer understanding of our history from a black point of view. I’m sure I’d have been angry about the horrific underbelly of our nation’s history. I might go home and show my mom and ask if it’s all true. “Separate water fountains, really?” I’m not sure what she might have said, but I am absolutely sure that many whites, even adults, would benefit from the simplicity and directness of Dr. Narain’s storytelling. It’s an ugly story, but beautifully presented, and perhaps some justice is finally emerging, as this book indicates, after a long and horrendous struggle.

This book stunningly and honestly lays the story bare. So, just as an experiment, I showed the manuscript on the screen to my seventh-grade grandson, asked him to read it and tell me what he thinks. I knew he would understand the story—it couldn’t have been more clearly presented. Between studies and sports, it took us only half an hour to finish it together. “Don’t worry, Grandpa,” he said. “There was a lot that was wrong, but we can make it better.” So, Dr. Narain’s book did its job, at least in this case, and I think it’s an important small step for mankind. I hope educators will incorporate it into their teaching. Though black kids will realize their history and feel its pain, white kids may emerge from reading it with more empathy for the present situation faced by many contemporary blacks.

Grant Leishman

The Cycle of a Dream: A Kid’s Introduction to Structural Racism in America by Dr. Kimberly Narain MD, Ph.D., M.P.H. is a delightful, beautifully illustrated, albeit brief journey through the history of Black people in America and how we have arrived at today’s current situation of heightened racial tension in the US. The author takes us right back to the time the first Africans were kidnapped from Angola and brought to the US to work the plantations of the South and enrich their white masters. She takes time to describe and understand in language children can grasp the many terms that underpin discussions on structural racism in America that are taking place today. From the decision of the courts in 1662 that the children of black slaves belonged to the slaves’ owners right through to the discrimination and economic disparities of today, the author addresses the problem in no-nonsense, straightforward detail. She concludes with some ideas on how young people can react and respond appropriately when witnessing discrimination and racism in their everyday lives.

I found The Cycle of a Dream to be a thoroughly refreshing and straightforward account of how the “American dream” has never been fulfilled for so many of the nation’s citizens of color. Overt and subtle racism has permeated every aspect of society, despite repeated efforts to “legislate” it away. What I particularly appreciated about Dr. Kimberly Narain’s excellent work was that she never spoke down to her young readers and gave them the bare facts of the mistreatment of the slaves and their descendants through the years. The illustrations are a beautiful addition to the story and although simple are evocative and powerful, adding greatly to the narrative. In this time when racial tension, police brutality, and income disparity are so much a part of our political discourse, what stood out for me was the author’s ability to define the terms that we so often use in our everyday vernacular to allow the young reader to grasp what is being said all around him and her, in discussion and in the news every single day. This was a wonderful introduction to the pernicious cancer of structural racism in the United States and perhaps, most importantly, it allows younger readers to grasp the concept and to discuss it with their parents, teachers, and peers, with knowledge and understanding. I would recommend that this book would be a great discussion document for younger grade-school classes, as well as a wonderful book to be read at a child’s bedside. It’s a great discussion generator and that is the key – discussion and understanding.

Joy Hannabass

The Cycle of a Dream: A Kid’s Introduction to Structural Racism in America by Dr. Kimberly Narain, MD, Ph.D., M.P.H. tells stories of slavery starting in 1619 until more recently. Narain writes about how slaves were treated and how they worked to make white owners of big plantations rich because slaves were not paid for their work. We have seen people from all different backgrounds working together to overcome racism and we continue to see it. The one huge thing that has been done for racism is the Civil War. A huge part of that war was fought in our area and surrounding areas. This book mentioned Booker T. Washington as one that spoke out for racism. I am happy that his homeplace is only a few miles from us.

As always when I read about slavery, I cringe because it's difficult for me to read that a human being was treated that way. I was blessed to have parents and grandparents who taught me to respect blacks and whites alike. Both blacks and whites in the community I grew up in have a special love and bond for each other. Too bad every community and city are not like this, but sadly they are not. I think The Cycle of a Dream is a great book to read to your children. It makes a wonderful conversation starter for those who are not sure how to bring this subject up with their children. The beautiful illustrations were created by Mike Motz, who does a really great job of capturing what is written on the pages. This is a book that will benefit many people. I encourage you to pick up The Cycle of a Dream by Kimberly Narain for your own home library.