Monday, April 21, 2008

Nonfiction Monday - Riding to Washington

Riding to Washington
by Gwenyth Swain and illustrated by David Geister is quite a lovely book! It is part of the Tales of Young Americans Series.

The story is told in first person by Janie, a young girl from Indianapolis. Her father comes home one night to tell his wife he wants to go on a bus to Washington to hear a speech. Her reaction is that Janie cannot stay home; she is a mischief maker. So, by default, Janie ends up going with her dad on the bus from Indianapolis to Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. Her dad tells her they are going to see history. Janie isn't wild about the history she learns at school, so she's not so sure about this bus trip.

Also, at this moment in time, Janie's only frame of reference when it comes to "colored or black folks" is what she sees on the television. From that, she infers they live in the South, get sprayed with water by police, and are nipped at by police dogs.

There are three parts of this book that are quite powerful. Each one gave me goosebumps.

The first moment is when they arrive at the theatre in Indianapolis to board the bus for Washington, and Janie observes the people around her. She says: "There were old people mixed with young people. Preachers mixed with farmers. And me and Daddy and just a few other whites mixed in with a whole bunch of coloreds." Goosebumps as I thought about how people from all walks of life came together for this very important moment!

The second moment is the scene where Mrs. Taylor (a black lady on Janie's bus) and Janie ask the bus driver to stop at a gas station because they need to use the restroom. The bus driver points out the "No Coloreds" sign. But little Janie, joined hands with Mrs. Taylor and went into the gas station where a young boy tries to stop them. Then, Janie says, "It's like my mama and daddy always say, 'You got the choice to do the right thing or not.' Mama says I make a lot of wrong choices, but I think letting us in would be the right one now." What intelligent words for such a young girl -- goosebumps again!

Finally, the illustration of all the people gathered to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak in Washington on August 28, 1963, is amazing. The illustrator, David Geister, paints a powerful picture of the sea of humanity, all there to hear the famous, "I Have a Dream" speech. Goosebumps, goosebumps, goosebumps!

The end of this book has an author's note that is well worth reading. The author's (Gwyneth Swain) father and grandfather actually took a bus trip to see Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his famous speech. She ends by saying that even more historic than the speech was the fact that people of all skin colors and religions came together for the dream of peace. What a phenomenal moment in history!!

This book is very kid friendly. I actually borrowed this from the "new book" section in our local library, but I will be buying it very soon, as this is a must have for our classroom library!! In addition to being a wonderful story about a significant time in history, it will also serve as a great mentor text when we study how to write literary nonfiction.

For the Nonfiction Monday roundup, go on over to Picture Book of the Day.


  1. Okay, so I must confess that my favorite thing to do on your blog is to look at the title being reviewed and guess who wrote it before I read it. So far, I have been wrong every time! I thought for sure this one was Bill's! I am going to start reading the first paragraph from now on and see if I do any better.

    Love these reviews--I am so far behind on my reading. They are helping me think through what to put on my 48 hour read pile.

  2. Franki -
    You are too funny! I would agree that this book probably seems like a "Bill" book. It just happened to be me writing about it this time.
    I do the same thing with you and ML -- it's like "Name that Tune" -- how fast can I identify the writer. Usually I can get it in the first sentence, but ML threw me the other day.