Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

By Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Children's Non-Fiction
Ages 12 and up
(Published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing)

A marvelously well-presented, thoroughly researched book! And boy, was it difficult, scary, and sickening to read! Not because of Bartoletti, but because of the subject matter. If one wants to read horror stories, one need look no further than our own human history, at "man's inhumanity to man."*  In her book They Called Themselves the K.K.K, Susan Campbell Bartoletti lets you know up front what you're in for. She says in part of her note to the reader at the front of the book:
"Whenever possible, I have let the people of the past speak in their own voices. Some of these people use crude language. No matter how difficult it is to see the offensive words in print, I have made no attempt to censor these historical statements.
  You will see images from pictorial newspapers such as Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and other sources. These images depict people, events, and viewpoints of the time. Some of the depictions are caricatured and racially offensive. I deeply regret any offense or hurt caused by the images, but again I have chosen not to censor."
I appreciate Bartoletti's bold, unflinching and compelling account of this era of history. She puts a terrifyingly human face on the subject of the K.K.K.'s terrorism, by her liberal use of both the victims and the Klan members' first-person accounts (the Slave Narratives of the 1930's), diaries, historical journals, newspaper reports, etc. Also included are a multitude of photographs and newspaper images from the day. Bartoletti doesn't whitewash anything.
She does an excellent job of explaining the many factors surrounding the beginnings of this group, things you won't find well-explained in school history books. This highly readable book will teach you a lot I'll bet you never learned before.

*From a poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796) entitled " Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge".
Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
Please note that the publishers have labelled this book as suitable for ages 8-12, grades 4 through 6. My library has listed this as Young Adult and I would have to concur. I think the subject matter is too graphic for an 8 year old, but of course you as the parent must make your own determination.

Read what other are saying about this book:
Becky from Becky's Book Reviews
Sharon from Outside of a Dog
Angela from Bookish Blather


  1. I am intrigued.

    Megan, I think you might also enjoy my childhood friend's blog at

  2. Didn't this one win an award, maybe? I'd like to read it.

  3. Kathy - I like checking out new blogs.

    Amy - Actually I think it won several awards. Here are the ones mentioned on Houghton Mifflin's website:
    2011 ALA Notable Children's Book
    2011 Horn Book Fanfare Selection
    2011 CCBC Choices
    2010 Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
    2010 Booklinks Lasting Connections Selection
    2010 A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
    2010 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
    2010 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year