Monday, May 16, 2011

Ruth and the Green Book

I am always joyfully surprised when historical fiction is effectively used in picture books. I mean I usually get pretty darn excited when I come across books where the author conveys there tremendous respect of their readers through their written message. I commonly hear teachers limit the use of picture books to young readers and then witness only silly, funny books being read to young readers. What kind of craziness is this? I mean really: have you sat with a young person lately? Have you witnessed their brilliance? Try reading them something powerful, some text with a thorough grain of wisdom and truth in it, and prepare to be educated? Young readers get it; they know what life is all about, and it can be with books like this one that the truth of what they know comes out.

Calvin Alexander hits a home run for history in this picture book, bridging racism and Green Books. What is that, you say? You are not too sure what Green Books are? Ahhh, there's the catch: I didn't know what a Green Book was either until I read this book. Had I been African- American living in the South during the '50's and '60's, I definitely would have known. I find it ironic that this is the first I have heard of Green Books, given their historical significance. Thank goodness folks keep unearthing these direly important parts of history and then creating great books for us to read and learn from. And thank goodness I keep finding my way to further cultivation of my social justice stance and actions.

This book reminded me of Almost to Freedom by Vanda Micheaux Nelson in terms of its surprise and truth (I will write about that brilliant book in another entry). In Ruth and the Green Book, Alexander traces the journey of a young African American girl who drives with her family from Chicago to Alabama to visit her grandmother in 1952. The singing and talking that happens in the car resonates with many of us, but the silence, tension and fear from racism and Jim Crow laws makes sense to me through my own book learning and listening. Here it is no different. I loved learning about The Negro Motorist Green Book sold at Esso Gas Stations and the "tourist homes" that formally offered overnight lodging to Black travelers. My mind is percolating now about Green Books and I keep wondering what my parents knew about the connection between Esso Gas Company, where my father worked for years, and that company's public support and actual equal viewing of African Americans.

I know these books are out there, just waiting for me and you to stumble across them, use them in our daily lives and learn from them. And if you are like me and don't know a thing about Green Books, I encourage you to track this book down. It is a keeper!

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