Catch This Bus

Kittinger, Jo. S. Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights. Illus. by Steven Walker. Calkins Creek, 2010. Ages 6-9.

Many children’s books relate the story of Rosa Parks and her refusal to vacate her seat for a white man. This picture book, however, zooms in on the actual bus — #2867, which began its journey in 1948 on the assembly line in Michigan and ended up getting restored and displayed in the Henry Ford Museum in 2003. Kittinger keeps the story rolling along, undeterred by superfluous details. Walker’s colorful oil paintings, especially those of the bus, add to the kid appeal. After Rosa’s arrest, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the bus boycott, which “went on and on. No dimes jingle-jangled in the coin box. Day after day, week after week, month after month, Bus #2357 rode down the street with plenty of empty seats.” After 382 days, the boycott ended with the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed race-based discrimination. Use this book and the author’s suggested activities to enhance children’s understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and their appreciation of the perseverance of those who participated. The bibliography provides noteworthy sources for those who want more details.

Shelton, Paula Young. Child of the Civil Rights Movement. Illus. by Raul Colon. Schwartz & Wade, 2009. Ages 5-9.

This first-time author is a daughter of Civil Rights leader Andrew Young and a first-grade teacher, experiences that enrich her engaging, child-friendly true story. Using simple, rhythmic language, she describes how her family moves from New York to Atlanta to work for the end of “Jim Crow, / where whites could / but blacks could not”). Famous leaders in the movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., are not cast as distant gods but as folks who ate and laughed and prayed together. Colón’s soft-colored pencil-and-wash illustrations evoke the affection shared among the activists. Children will laugh upon learning of Shelton’s first protest: She sat on the floor and wailed when a Holiday Inn restaurant in Atlanta refused to serve her family.  One aspect that particularly recommends this book to children is its hopeful, positive tone, with its emphasis on community and respect. The story’s triumphant end shows Paula and her family joining the world-changing march from Selma to Montgomery. A brief bibliography and biographical notes provide additional information.

Other Recommended Titles for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Leave a comment to share your favorite children’s book related to MLK!

Michelson, Richard.  As Good as Anybody:Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom. Illus. by Raul Colón. Knopf, 2008. Ages 6-10. Michelson provides an interesting perspective in this 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner. He focuses on two peaceful heroes: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an ally, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Michelson invites readers to consider the parallels between the two leaders and their experiences. Both experienced hostility and prejudice in their homeland. Both overcame it with love, faith, and wisdom. Colón’s illustrations illuminate both the individual experiences (King’s story features an earthy palette, Heschel’s a blue one) and the similarities, as when he depicts the hateful signs that say “Whites Only” and then the ones proclaiming “No Jews Allowed.” In the final pages, the colors blend together, showcasing the diverse people who joined the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

Rappaport, Doreen. Martin’s Big Words. Jump at the Sun, 2001. Illus. by Bryan Collier. Ages 5-10. Rappaport weaves her own well-chosen words with those of King’s, resulting in a concise, poetic, and respectful picture-book biography of King. Teaming up with Collier was an inspired touch, as his amazing painted collages lend this book so much power and beauty. Martin’s Big Words won both the Coretta Scott King Honor and the Caldecott Honor for its stellar illustrations.

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