A book co-authored by a Pensacola woman and her teenage daughter has been awarded one of the 2018 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.
The book, which was released in January of this year, is called The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High.
“We are really excited about the award because there were 1,500 entrants and we were first place, the Gold Award in the Multicultural category,” said Dr. Eurydice Stanley, wrote the book along with her 15-year-old daughter Grace Stanley and civil rights icon Elizabeth Eckford.
The book chronicles Eckford’s real-life story as one of the Central High School Little Rock Nine.
“It is just truly a testament to the message that we are trying to share; the civil rights history that we’re trying to share, tempered with message of anti-bullying,” said Stanley, acknowledging their goal to present a different perspective and help the reader understand the importance taking action when they see someone being attacked.
Stanley is a retired Army Lt. Col., who met Ms. Eckford during a military training assignment in Little Rock, Arkansas nearly 20 years ago.
For her dissertation on racial reconciliation, she interviewed Eckford and Hazel Bryan, a white student protester. A famous photo of the two captures the anguish and turmoil of that first day of racial integration at Central High in 1957.
“Thankfully, Elizabeth and I remained friends, and I kept asking her ‘why don’t you have a book.’ Other people had written about her, but she had not told her story,” Stanley said. “We are very proud to have helped her bring her story to life.”
Stanley was inspired to present the manuscript as a children’s book and chose write it with her daughter, because she says children are our future.
“Elizabeth still speaks to schools; she still speaks to youth. She is energized by youth,” she said of Ms. Eckford. Additionally, she points their desire to make a difference in response to the number of students who’ve committed suicide due to bullying.
“This (book) was an opportunity to do so by really digging down deep, getting into the history, helping people understand that there was a time when the President of the United States had to send in the 101st Airborne just to ensure that nine students could attend Central High.”
“We’ve been able to see her evolve, because before she would sometimes cry or get very upset because it’s a very emotional, very traumatic experience that she went through,” said co-author Grace Stanley, who’s enrolled in the Biomedical Sciences Academy at West Florida High School.
She says before collaborating to write the book, Eckford mainly focused her talks on the general subject of civil rights and desegregation because of the Brown V. Board of Education decision.
“But, now with us, she’s able to speak about her book and what happened to her specifically; she’s changed and become so much more outspoken,” Grace said. “We’ve been able to see her now smile and so much more and she’s much more comfortable talking about it now. And, that’s definitely made us very proud.”
The Stanleys believe their final product is something that all can enjoy. They’re big fans of the Broadway hit Hamilton, which influenced them to tell Eckford’s story of bullying using text that rhymes.
“It is targeted towards middle school children and above, but it is definitely a book that should be read by everyone, of all ages,” said the teenage author. “And, we’ve included a picture or more pictures on every other page so that you wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”
Most of the historic photos are from the Will Counts Collection: Indiana University Archives, taken by photographer Will Counts, who took the iconic image of Eckford and the angry protester Hazel Bryan.
“That is the image that was on the front cover of international headlines, before such a thing was known as going viral,” said Eurydice Stanley of the photo that made Elizabeth Eckford one of the most known teens in the world.
Stanley also commissioned artist Rachel Gibson, who brought many of Ms. Eckford’s memories to life with her illustrations.
That brings to the special dress that Eckford wore on that first day in 1957 that Central High was to be desegregated.
At the beginning of the book, there’s a drawing of Eckford admiring the dress in the mirror and there’s a passage detailing her memory of the dress.
On the first day of school, I gazed at my new dress with pride.
My sister Anna helped me make it out of the prettiest material we could find.
The blouse was white with a sleek collar and the skirt had navy blue gingham trim.
Today I would integrate an all-white school, and I wanted to look my best for them!
“And, I love this stanza,” said Grace Stanley noting that Eckford, who she refers to as Aunt Elizabeth, and her sister Anna were so proud of the dress they made for the first day of school and wanted to make an impression.
“As you go through the book, you find out later, her dress was essentially ruined by the protesters.”
For Eurydice Stanley, this project was a labor of love for her and her daughter, published independently by her own company Lamp Press. She hopes the Moonbeam award will bring attention to their book and its message. Reinforcing the point, she reads the last stanza, which are the closing words of wisdom from their co-author and Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford.
Remember my first day at Central the next time you’re having a bad day at work or at school.
It proves there is no limit to what you can achieve despite naysayers who attack and berate.
Know that I am extremely proud of you and always want you to (walk) confidently with your head held high.
Most importantly, when faced with adversity, follow my lead and #WalkPastHate!.
The book is The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High, by Eurydice and Grace Stanley and Elizabeth Eckford. It’s only available on Amazon, which you can link to from our website wuwf.org.