The 40th anniversary edition, Penguin, and Bantam Starfire covers of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor. Fair use rationale.

Cassie Logan is the narrator and protagonist of Mildred Taylor’s 1976 novel, Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry. Taylor creates a story that highlights racism, segregation and childhood in rural Mississippi in 1933, through the eyes of a nine-year-old African American girl, Cassie. She is part of the Logan family, which consists of her older brother Stacey, younger brother Clayton, Papa, Mama and Big Ma. The Logans live in a segregated town and often find that they are often the targets of the white community, which includes the Wallaces and the Simms family. Cassie frequently challenges the racism she faces and has a fiery temper. She is not a victim, but a fighter.

This story has no happy ending. Racism is not abolished and the town does not come together in one harmonious final scene. But this is because the story is not a fairy tale. Taylor relays a fictional story based on a real period of history. And the truth is that many thousands of African American families did not get the justice they deserved, but they still fought on with resilience. The character of Cassie embodies such strength. Taylor created a strong narrator, and that is reflected in the artwork produced on the cover of her book.

Throughout the years, there have been several illustrations on the front cover of the book. What is largely consistent is that most covers place Cassie at the center. This makes sense, as she is the narrator, but I find that these three images in particular show her strength and determination in the face of injustice. All three feature the fire that rages at the end of the story, but the Bantam Starfire and 40th Anniversary versions show it approaching in the distance. In the foreground, Cassie is featured with a steely stare and her arms purposefully folded across her chest. She is the calm in the face of impending danger; she looks determined to do what is needed. The line of symmetry down the middle of the 40th Anniversary cover draws the eye directly into her steely, sassy glare. This, combined with the bright clean colors of the natural background underneath the smoke creates an eerie calm: the calm before the storm. This perception is true to her character, as she frequently questions the racism she faces and is not afraid to stand up to those who hurt her.

These differ to the Penguin cover that show Cassie shielding her brothers from the flames with a hint of fear in her eyes. This version feels more true to her character as it combines Cassie’s strength with her innocence. She is just nine years old, and throughout the story she doesn’t quite get all the lessons that are put to her by her family, or exactly why racism is happening. However, nothing can overshadow her strength and protective instincts.

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