By Phillip Hoose (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009)
I don't read as much non-fiction for kids as I used to. Or as I'd like to. As a school librarian, working with teachers and students who thrived on good books, I appreciated it when a writer published terrific informational books kids loved to read and students and their teachers were also able to use for research. And although I’m no longer a working librarian, it’s hard to give up the mindset: I’m always thinking about how a “true” book might be used in the classroom and whether the author’s research stands up to scrutiny.
Phillip Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice passed all my tests, including the readability factor. I devoured it in one sitting.
I grew up in the South of the 60s. I knew a bit about the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, but like many other events of the time, much was left out of the story I’d been told. Yes, Rosa Parks, sometimes known as the godmother of the Civil Rights movement, is the name most associated with starting the boycott. But what this new book shows readers is that more than one person had a hand in this history-changing event. Many people, both black and white, stood up to the injustices they witnessed. And a young girl, much less well-known than most of the names associated with the Montgomery boycott, also refused to give up her seat on the bus.
Phillip Hoose learned about Claudette Colvin while researching an earlier book, We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History. He tracked her down and eventually convinced her to grant him fourteen interviews. Much of the book is told in her words, her own personal history of the time.
The sidebars alone might constitute an entire lesson plan for teachers. A facsimile of a handwritten list attributed to NAACP secretary Rosa Parks shows contributions made by churches to Colvin’s case. A photograph of the “Rex Theatre for Colored People,” accompanied by a ticket bought for a mere 15¢ in the mid 1950s, illustrates Claudette’s text about the Jim Crow laws that were so pervasive in downtown Montgomery when she was growing up. Newspapers, photographs, descriptions of the town and the players in the boycott— so much detail, so many fascinating facts to pour over. This book is a gem.
Deservedly, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice has been bestowed with awards and high praise. A Newbery Honor, a National Book Award, too many “best” lists to mention.
In 2005, Colvin returned to her high school in Montgomery to speak to students. She tells them
“I made a personal statement, too… Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?... I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it… You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’
And I did.”
Phillip Hoose’s book illuminates a troubled time in our country’s history by detailing the impact of one significant event, the Montgomery Bus protest of 1955 and 1956.With this book, through the eyes of its leaders and a few ordinary people, young readers have a fresh perspective, new insights and information to interpret the Civil Rights movement.
I'm so grateful to Augusta for reviewing this for us. BTW - there's a gripping excerpt at the MacMillan website.