Monday, March 8, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Written by: Phillip Hoose
Recommended Ages: 12 and up

Last year, when I started The Book Nosher, I had to make a decision about what books I was going to review. I decided to focus on picture books through middle grade, and not delve into young adult novels. There were just too many of them, and I had to draw the line somewhere. Today, however, I am going to write about the young adult book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. It is just too compelling and important a book to leave out. And while I'm not suggesting that kids younger than 12 read it (unless with a parent or teacher), I do think it's an important book for middle-schoolers on up to read.

Nine months before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery Alabama, teenager Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat on a crowded Montgomery city bus. She was arrested and dragged off the bus. But Civil Rights Leaders thought her youth, class and somewhat volatile temperament didn't make her an ideal candidate to become the poster child for organizing a mass boycott of the Montgomery bus system. So she was left with a police record, shunned by many of her high school classmates, and a few months later ended up pregnant. Yet Colvin's story is extraordinary, and readers will appreciate the courage it took for her (a mere teenager) to take a stance against segregation.

Through a series of interviews with Colvin (who now lives in the Bronx), Hoose brings her story alive and shows us what it was like to be black in the 1950's in the South. The daily humiliations that she and all blacks faced were truly despicable. It's important for young readers to understand the role that the vile Jim Crow laws played on a day-to-day basis. For example, kids weren't allowed to try on shoes in a store, instead parents would have to take a traced outline of their child's foot into the store. By understanding the climate that Claudette Colvin grew up in, we understand when she finally has had enough, and refused to leave her seat:

"Rebellion was on my mind that day. All during February we had been talking about people who take stands. We had been studying the Constitution in Miss Nesbitt's class. I knew I had rights. I had paid my fare the same as white passengers. I knew the rule--that you didn't have to get up for a white person if there were no empty seats left on the bus--and there weren't. But it wasn't about that. I was thinking, Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I'm black? Right then, I decided I wasn't gonna take it anymore. I hadn't planned it out, but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences." (page 30)

Hoose has supplemented the engrossing text with photographs and newspaper clippings of the period. There are sidebars throughout the book, which further illuminate and enhance the story. We learn that Claudette served as one of the four plaintiffs in the Federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, the case that eventually abolished segregated bus seating in Alabama. And even though history forgot the role that she played in the Montgomery Bus boycott, Hoose has introduced Claudette Colbert to a new generation who will applaud her efforts. She serves as a reminder that one person can make a difference, no matter your age.

BookNosher Tidbit: Phillip Hoose won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. It was also a Newbery Honor book for 2010.

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