Saturday, July 24, 2010
Ruth and the Green Book
You know those great gift cards, candy, gadgets, etc. that you notice while standing in a checkout line? Recently my favorite children's bookstore, Cover to Cover, has started tempting me at the checkout line as well. They have featured books displayed where you check out. I was first tempted by, and then purchased, The Red Umbrella. My most recent discovery while standing at CTC's checkout counter was Ruth and the Green Book written by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.
Ruth and the Green Book is a picture book that does a very effective job telling about a time in history of which I had some background knowledge, but I loved that I learned from this book. I had no background knowledge whatsoever about the "The Negro Motorist Green Book."
The story takes place in the 1950's when Ruth's dad surprises Ruth and her mom by coming home with a new car one day. He bought it for his job, but first, they decided to use the car to go visit Ruth's Grandma in Alabama. Everyone was so excited.
Ruth's family soon learns that life is very different from where they live in Chicago. Gas station owners wouldn't let them use the bathrooms, restaurants wouldn't let them eat, motels with vacancies wouldn't let them stay. Ruth thought:
"It semed like there were 'White Only' signs everywhere outside of our Chicago neighborhood."
But on their second night from Chicago to Alabama, they stopped at a house of a friend of Ruth's dad. He shared that the friendliest gas stations were Esso stations. When they finally stop at an Esso, the attendant there showed them a pamphlet called, "The Negro Motorist Green Book." It was like today's version of a AAA Guide Book. The Green Book was organized by states and contained names of places where black people would be welcome to eat, sleep, get gas, shop, etc.
This is the piece of history of which I had no knowledge. The Green Book was actually put together by a postman, Mr. Victor H. Green, to help black people when traveling. The first edition came out in 1936, and the final edtion was published in 1964. Though there was a cost in buying the book, what an incredible resource for black people who wanted to travel during the time of the Jim Crow laws!
Telling this story through Ruth's eyes is very effective. A child narrator softens the hatred that surrounded black traveler, and instead focuses on the positive things the Green Book brought into this family's life. Cooper's illustrations are very soft as well, and complement the text quite nicely.
I was very moved by Ruth and the Green Book, and am so glad I was "tempted" at the checkout counter to buy it. This book will be shared and prominently displayed in our classroom with Sit-In - what wonderful and meaningful conversations we can have about this time in history using these two fabulous books!