The First Step by Susan E. Goodman

The First Step by Susan E Goodman

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sarah Roberts. Sarah was attending school in Boston in 1847 when she was told that she would have to stop. Instead she would be required to attend the school for African American children across town where there were fewer books and the subjects were not as robust. Sarah’s parents decided not to accept this decision and instead decided to fight for change in the courts. Two lawyers agreed to take Sarah’s case, Robert Morris the second African-American attorney in the United States and Charles Sumner known for his way of orating about justice. Though they lost this first court case challenging school segregation, it set other events in motion and in 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools.

Goodman writes an inspiring book about how even losses can begin to change the way people view laws. She does not stop with the longing for change and the case itself, continuing to tell the story of Boston’s changes and then the way that this case led to more cases which resulted in the end of segregation in the nation. This book demonstrates many things to young readers. First that they themselves can create change in the world around them. Second that a loss does not mean the end, it means the fight continues in a different way.

Lewis’ illustrations are done in watercolor and gouache. They echo with historical significance, showing the power of a dream for change, the sorrow of one little girl, and the determination that it takes to make society better. The illustrations range from the subtlety of black and white photographs to the bright colors of change and hope.

A powerful and important story of how children change their world, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Review: March: Book Two by John Lewis

march book two

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

The powerful second book in the March graphic novel series continues the true story of the Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis in the first person, this book captures the dangers and violence faced by the Freedom Riders as they headed into the deep south. The nonviolent campaign for civil rights faced beatings, police brutality, bombs, imprisonment and potential death. Yet they found a way to not only keep going but to continue to press deeper and deeper into the south. This book is a harrowing read that shows how one young man became a leader of in civil rights and politics in America.

Lewis’ personal story allows readers a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes. Historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X make appearances in the book, and their own personal perspectives on civil rights and nonviolence is shared. The pushback on the nonviolent aspect of the movement is also shown clearly on the page when new people joined the cause. This shift towards more reactionary tactics threatens to undo the progress that had been made to that point.

Thanks to the graphic novel format, there is no turning away from the violence. Beatings are shown up close and will a frenzy that is palpable. The dangers are not minimized nor overly dramatized, they are shown honestly. There are unforgettable moments throughout the novel, some of them small like a boy being encouraged to claw out a civil rights worker’s eyes.  Other moments are larger from the mattress protests in the jail to the march of the children and the police brutality that followed.

Immensely strong and powerful, this graphic novel series allows us to see how much progress was made thanks to these civil rights heroes but also inspires young readers to make more progress against the continued racism in our society. Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

separate is never equal

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Explore an early battle for desegregation of the California public schools in this picture book.  In a court battle that took place seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her family fought the system.  Having been placed in a Mexican school rather than a “whites only” one due to her Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, Sylvia and her family realized that she was being given a second-class education because the facilities and teachers were much better in the white school.  After appealing the school placement, the full extent of the racism of the system was revealed as the school proceeded to inform Sylvia who spoke perfect English that the other school would help her learn English better.  Sylvia’s parents took the battle to court and also organized the Hispanic community to find other students who were being clearly discriminated against.  This is a book where people took on a fight for what was right and managed to get things changed. 

Tonatiuh emphasizes the small and poor vs. large government and wealth throughout this book.  He makes sure that young readers understand the extent of the racism against Hispanics and the reality of the policies that they were living under.  The issue is complex, but he keeps it clear and concise, offering a solid view of the courage that it took for the Mendez family to fight the system and also making it clear why they were able to fight back when others could not.

Tonatiuh’s stylized illustrations pay homage as always to folk art.  His characters have glossy hair in different colors that are cut-outs of photographs.  The same is true of the fabric of clothes and other objects.  This is paired with a flat paint and clear black outlines making a combination that is modern and ageless. 

An important addition to the civil rights history of the United States, this nonfiction picture book tells a story of courage and determination.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.