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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, written by Jody Nyasha Warner and illustrated by Richard Rudnicki. Groundwood, 2010. $18.95 ages 6 and up

""No, you people have to sit in the upstairs section."
   Right then Viola understood crystal clear what she was saying.
   It was 1946. Back then the Roseland Theatre, like a lot of other '
 places in Canada, was segregated. That meant black people were not
 allowed to sit, stand or even be in the same section as white people."

With a storyteller's voice and in plain speak, Viola Desmond's story is told to inform young readers today of her determination and courage when faced with the segregation of the times. When she takes a walk while her car is being repaired, she has no idea how the day will unfold. Knowing that the wait will be long, Viola decides she will see a show at the Roseland Theatre. She is told she bought a ticket for a different section and when she offers to pay more to sit in her chosen seat, the usher makes an issue of it. Viola refuses to move; first, the manager is called, then the police. Viola is taken to jail for 'not paying the proper ticket price'. A sentence of guilty and a fine of $20 is the result of her arrest.

When she gets back home, she makes it clear to her friends and family what happened in New Glasgow and they convince her to appeal the fine. The Supreme Court does not want to talk about race issues and they determine that her case was tried fairly and she has no recourse. It is not what everyone was hoping would happen. But, her bravery made a difference and she could always be proud that she 'sat' for what truly mattered, at a time when black people had no rights. Her stand encouraged many others to speak out against racial prejudice and to fight for the rights of all people.

The text is short and the story brief, but it moves quickly and packs a wallop...especially for those of us who did not know this story.  It is not well-known, and needs to be. This book is a perfect start. The author includes a single page called  a 'Glimpse of African Canadian History' and that might be all the inspiration needed to send readers looking for more. It is sure to open discussion about Canada and its racial history. Further stories from Viola's life can be found in a book written by her sister, Wanda Robson. It is called Sister to Courage (Breton Books, 2010) and offers many family stories that help to explain why Viola took a stand on that fateful day in 1946.

From the torn ticket for the Roseland Theatre that admits one person for 30 cents (including 2 cents tax), to the honorable and proud woman pictured as the story ends, Richard Rudnicki provides us with a close-up look at the events of the time. The bright palette, the use of light, the historic setting and the small details that could almost go unnoticed give us an authentic feel for Viola and her act of bravery. She is fearful, angry, spirited, independent and forceful in standing up for herself and for others. We are privy to all that emotion through his spirited and dramatic artwork.


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