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!


  1. I'm betting the "tempt them at the counter" idea was Beth's! For all those times when she's not there in person to tempt us!

  2. I have noticed the tempting "candy" as you leave Cover to Cover as well. They are very good at tempting me with books in the way they display them (a few lessons for my classroom). I enjoyed reading about "Ruth and the Green Book" and am placing it in my "to be read" list. Thanks for sharing!

  3. ML - It does seem like a Beth idea. Bad news for me was that she was there the day I bought this book, handing me books in person as well. :)

    Cathy - You're right. This is a lesson in sharing books with our students that could extend into our classrooms.

  4. Karen, I am going to have to add this book to my list of books I want to read. I have never heard of this time in history. What a great story. I'm due for a trip to CTC too! :)

  5. Julie- what is it about CTC that trips there never get old??!! :)

  6. I lived during this period of time and can relate w/the character. The depiction is accurate and how fascinating to view through the eyes of a child w/a pure heart. A must gift for all children.