Updated: May 23
Annie Sesstry is a conventional African American teen. Her gaze is on the present; her dreams are of the future. Resistant to the parental saturation of family history and culture, Annie objects to the steady infusion of Black miscellany in all aspects of family life. Until the day she, her sister, Emma, and her cousin Joshua are swept back in time.
The fictional Time Travels of Annie Sesstry: Sly As A Fox follows the unlikely adventures of these twenty-first-century descendants of Fox McElmurry, a man born enslaved in 1829 and freed after the Civil War. The account of Fox’s early years is sparse because recording the details of his existence might have bestowed significance upon him. Being declared three-fifths of a person did not warrant maintaining vital birth records for men like Fox or even a bill of sales.
Annie, Emma, and Joshua unexpectantly travel through time, meeting Fox, his wife Mary, and other ancestors navigating a new world of freedom in Crawford County, Georgia. It is July 23, 1867. Voter records disclose Fox registered that day. The absence of segregated voting records in the initial years of Reconstruction preserved Fox’s momentous day for posterity. There is danger, twists, turns, and ultimately triumph in the young adult novel for a satisfying ending. Undoubtedly, a set-up for book two.
This book, Missouri’s Memories, the soon-to-be-released second in the series, and future books are a family history of sorts. It is also the soft telling of a fraction of the Black experience in America during different eras.
The point of writing the Sesstry series was to tell a story of hope and resilience. I never imagined the books might not be allowed in school libraries, stricken from reading lists or subject schools, and teachers to legal actions. Yet, one of the first actions the governor of my state took after his swearing-in was to establish a tip line for anyone to report teachers teaching critical race theory. The lack of state guidelines on its meaning leaves it to the caller to define.
What is the critical race theory state policymakers chasing down the rabbit hole? There is a legal framework for CRT that has been in existence for over forty years. But that is not the issue at the K-12 level. CRT appears to be anything some legislators and parents do not want being mentioned about race in the classroom. Thirty-six states introduced legislation or took some action in 2022 to limit discussion or instruction on issues of race or racism. It will not be permitted if it relates to structural racism and its persistent presence throughout America’s existence.
For that reason, the Sesstry series and the story of Fox and his descendants is a problem. Structural racism - historical discrimination in criminal justice, employment, health care, education, and political representation are all plots of the books. Annie viewed firsthand the black codes, disparate health care, the Red Summer, Jim Crow, and the chain gang. She returned to her own time in awe of her ancestors’ endurance, not hating white people as some would suggest.
My unpretentious tales of time travel and family pride do not rise to the literary standards of Toni Morrison or Harper Lee. The content, however, is consistent with topics that intimidate small-minded individuals who lack confidence in well-trained teachers and smart kids to understand the history of this nation and right its wrongs. Critical race theory is a manufactured issue in K-12 education.
In Sly As A Fox, Annie meets the woman whose name she carries. She learns how much the first Ann longs to read. Ann correlates the ability to read with freedom. Perhaps that should be a warning to those who attempt to deny information to a generation of young people. Eager for what they are denied will only encourage them to seek it more.