HOW DO YOU SPELL UNFAIR?
MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee
By: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: Frank Morrison
Published: April 11, 2023
Publisher: Candlewick Press
In 1908, a black girl from Ohio led her team to win against an all-white team at the National Education Association Spelling Bee. Because black children out-spelled whites in competition, it showed that blacks were as smart as whites and were not inferior as racists believed. Unfortunately, it took until 1936 for another black finalist to be a contestant at a national spelling bee.
In 1936, eighth-grader MacNolia Cox won her school’s spelling bee. Earning a trip to the state of Ohio’s spelling bee she battled until the final round against a boy and eventually won. Her prize was $25 and a trip to the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC.
Unfortunately, arriving in Maryland, MacNolia immediately faced segregation since it was still the law there. The same held true in Washington DC. She another black contestant had to enter through a back stairway and sit separately from the other white contestants. MacNolia was determined to do her best and even though she was met head-on with unfair treatment and racism, she held her head high and was welcomed home with a homecoming parade.
I had never heard of MacNolia’s story and I became angry at the ignorance of the education leaders. Even though MacNolia didn’t win, kids like her kept fighting to enter spelling bees. I couldn’t believe it took until 1998 to have a winner of African descent and until 2021 to have an African-American as the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This same year, the US Senate honored MacNolia’s life, legacy, and achievements.
I love that the author incorporated spelling into the story, including words that MacNolia had to spell in her competitions. Kids will learn how to spell words like famous, dedication, discrimination, and amazed. The illustrations really put you in the time and place of the early 1900s including the clothing and settings of MacNollia’s life. A great book for reading and discussing during Black History Month or as your school is gearing up for a Spelling Bee. This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held at the end of May.
Carole Boston Weatherford has been awarded a Newbery Award as well as a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. Frank Morrison was a Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner.
Click HERE to download the teacher’s guide
|Carole Boston Weatherford, a New York Times best-selling author and poet, was named the 2019 Washington Post–Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award winner. Her numerous books for children include the Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, illustrated by Floyd Cooper; the Caldecott Honor Books Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, which was also a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book; the critically acclaimed Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, illustrated by Eric Velasquez; and the Newbery Honor Book BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, illustrated by Michele Wood. Carole Boston Weatherford lives in North Carolina. Check out her website, HERE.
|Frank Morrison has won numerous awards for his picture book illustration, including two Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards. He previously collaborated with Carole Boston Weatherford on Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual; R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul; How Sweet the Sound: The Story of Amazing Grace; and The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop. Frank Morrison lives outside Atlanta.