Author: Robert Coles
Publication: Scholastic Hardcover, 1995
Genre: Picture Book/Nonfiction
Brought up by a religious family that was proud of what they realized was her place in history, Ruby handled the pressure with dignity and grace beyond her years, praying for the protesters as she passed them each morning. Eventually, other African American children joined her at the school, and after several years, the white families sent their children back to school. Ruby graduated from this elementary school and from high school, and brought up her own family in New Orleans as well.
Audience: This is a great story to introduce civil rights issues to small children, as it is a dramatic story with a winsome heroine that hints at the underlying violence but is not too scary.
My Impressions: This is a wonderful story for all ages about the brave Bridges family: a mother who was determined her daughter would make history, and had brought up this small child to pray for her enemies and have the strength to walk by them every day. Coles captures both the incredible loneliness of Ruby’s situation and her great dignity, as she marched past her tormentors, clutching her lunch box. I am not sure a modern child used to an integrated classroom could even begin to understand why it was such a volatile issue or comprehend the viciousness of the adults who yelled death threats at Ruby. Of course, my own City of Boston had its own shameful episode during its court-ordered desegregation when white adults threw rocks at buses bringing African-American children to South Boston. As in this book, people blamed the judge instead of their own racist attitudes.
The existing teachers from the Frantz School refused to teach in an integrated school, so Ruby was taught by the amazing Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston, whose sons later went to school with my brother. Mrs. Henry taught Ruby alone for a year before other children joined the classroom. Here is a link to the Boston Globe interview about her experience. I knew Mrs. Henry as a kind family friend long before I learned about her courage and willingness to sacrifice her own safety to advance the civil rights of African American children in the South. I love that she attributes her outstanding education at then Girls’ Latin in Boston as instilling respect for all, regardless of race or background. My sister-in-law’s niece Parker is a seventh grader at Boston Latin Academy, as it is now known, and I hope her experience there will be as enriching.
Last year, the Friends of Roslindale Branch Library, of which I am part, formed a Racial Justice and Inclusiveness Committee to plan educational events, discussions, and presentations related to race, ethnicity, religion and culture. We have had good attendance at the first events and are considering a children’s event which inspired me to read this book. Click here for more information and a schedule of events.
Note that on March 30, 2017 the Roslindale Library will be discussing Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk which was highly recommended by one of our committee members.
|Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom each day|