Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review: Grandmama's Pride

by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Colin Bootman. Albert Whitman& Co. 2005. This is a picture book that eloquently tells the story of a six year old girl and her family dealing with segregation in the 1950s American south. They live up north but take the bus down to visit Grandmama's. Sarah Marie can't quite understand why they can't eat at lunch counters, sit in the bus station waiting room that has benches, or ride in the front of the bus. Her family is strong and proud and loving, however, so those mysteries don't overly concern her. She finds her Grandmama to be nurturing and powerful, even though she is a bit peculiar. She will not ride the bus and leads the girls in walking with her downtown to buy new dresses. She will not let them drink from the water fountains, but insists, "Wait till we get home. Grandmama's going to fix you ice-cold, lemon-mint tea from fresh-squeezed lemons, with spearmint out of my garden."

As Sarah Marie begins to learn to read she discovers the signs she has seen hanging all over town say things like, "WHITE ONLY", "Colored Women", and "Colored Waiting Room". Her little sister still can't read the signs. Sarah steps right into the strategy of the older women in the family by explaining to little sister, "You don't want to sit on those public benches. You don't know who's been sitting there." instead of reading the shameful signs to her.

Back up north after the vacation she begins to read the paper and learns about the bus boycott ending in victory and the Civil Rights movement bringing other changes. She reads words she can't understand but it begins to come together in her mind when she realizes why her Grandmama refused to ride the bus or drink from segregated water fountains. Next summer when they return south the laws have changed and Grandmama leads the family in celebrating their growing rights.

There is an author's note in the back of the book explaining the historic background of her fictional story that is based on true events. The illustrations by Colin Bootman are perfectly balanced between to beauty of the characters and the ominous evil of the discrimination they fought. Grandmama's Pride is a good picture book for older readers learning about a difficult struggle in our history told through the eyes of those that lived through monumental changes. Highly recommended.

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