Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Ruth is thrilled when her dad buys a car for his job. The car is for his job, but before he begins his new job, their family is going on a cross-country trip to visit Ruth's grandmother in Alabama. They leave Chicago and at first everything is exciting and fun. Mama has made picnics they eat at the side of the road and Ruth is thrilled to see the country pass by the car's windows. Then they stop to get gas and Mama asks to use the restroom. But the restrooms are for whites only. Mama and Ruth have to go into the woods. They can't stay in a a hotel, so Mama and Daddy take turns driving all night long. They can't eat at restaurants, so they eat the food Mama packed at the side of the road. Then they stop at a friend's house and he tells them to look for Esso stations, one of the few service stations where they can get gas. At the first place they stop, the friendly man gives them The Negro Motorist Green Book. It's a list of all the places they can sleep, eat, and shop. Their trip gets better, but it's still not all easy. When their car breaks down, no one will stop to help them and Daddy has to walk a long way into town to find a friendly mechanic. Finally, they arrive at Grandma's house, safe at home with family.

That was a really long summary, but I wanted to pack in the whole fascinating story! There are plenty of nonfiction books about the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans, many of them in picture book form. This, however, is the best one I've seen so far for early elementary students. Or for older children for that matter. It's easy to look with admiration at the people who struggled for equality, but I think a lot of kids - and adults - don't grasp exactly what Jim Crow meant. Segregation was much more than an abstract concept; it was a very real presence that made life dangerous and normal, everyday things we take for granted now difficult or impossible.

This book drives home the impact of segregation and the way it limited the lives of African-Americans, keeping them trapped in certain areas, cutting them off from better jobs, and creating an atmosphere of fear and humiliation. It's also an excellent explanation of the way many people fought segregation in small ways and worked together to create better lives for themselves and other African-Americans.

Verdict: Recommended for every library. I would strongly recommend this book be read aloud to any classes studying the history of civil rights and segregation.

ISBN: 9780761352556; Published August 2010 by Carolrhoda Books; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

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