It is Black History month. I will admit that this is not a topic that I typically focus on with my kids, but the more my older daughter and I delve into the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews, the more important showing her that similar injustices have been faced by others.
One subject that both of my girls have been interested in has to do with Rosa Parks. We have a deep love of the Isabella books, and Rosa Parks is one of the pages in the original edition. Like most libraries, our local library showcases books on the top of the shelves for specific events and I was drawn to a book about Rosa Parks.
Jo Kittinger’s Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights is an excellent book that tells about the plight of African Americans from the perspective of bus #2857 – the scene of Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move. This book gets classified as a picture book rather than a non-fiction title because it is told from the point of view of the bus, rather than straight fact about Rosa and the boycott. Through absolutely wonderful illustrations, Rosa’s Bus shows how African Americans were expected to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats if the rows reserved for whites were full. If they didn’t move, they would be arrested. “Those were the rules, called Jim Crow laws. That’s just the way things were.”
“That’s just the way things were” is a common theme when I try to explain civil rights, women’s rights and the plight of the Jews to my kids. It is hard for them to fathom that blacks were told to stay separate from whites. That blacks had to sit in different places, go to different schools, drink from separate water fountains and that black and white children rarely played together.
Rosa’s Bus also recounts the bus boycott itself. Rather than just focusing on Rosa Parks, the book shows how Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved and led a peaceful protest that lasted for over a year. It also puts the bus itself as an important part of history that is now housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, where it was first built. “It welcomes people who remember the way things were and people who only have heard the stories.”
Another book about Rosa Parks that truly shines is I am Rosa Parks, a part of the Ordinary People Change the World Series. This series, by Brad Meltzer, is stunning in it’s simplicity. The Rosa Parks edition might very well be the best one that I have read of the series.
Beginning with childhood incidents that guided her later actions, this entry in the Ordinary People Change the World series proceeds with examples of Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal disparities. These set the scene for Parks’ involvement in civil rights, her now-celebrated refusal to give up her seat on a bus, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott she inspired.
Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos take the story of a strong young girl who stood up for herself from a young age and made her completely accessible. Kids are able to read these books and see that heroes from our history were normal people who just decided to do something extraordinary. Rosa Parks was never one to back down and had been taught from an early age to expect people to respect her just as she respected herself.
I love that this series encourages kids to be strong and to be the change that our world needs. As the last page of this book says, “I’m also proof that there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. I hope you’ll always stand up for yourself, and I hope you’ll remember that we’re all in this together.”
As we continue to have conversations about women’s rights (awesome post of books coming soon), I always find it important to compare all of the issues to similar plights of other minorities. The lesson of Rosa Parks is that we can all make a difference in this world by standing up for what we believe in. A great lesson from Black History Month and for every day of the year.
This post is a part of the awesome link-up of non-fiction picture books as hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. When I was writing this post, I had no idea that Alyson Beecher had written a post just the day before about the Ordinary People series. Check out all of the linked blogs here.