Monday, August 1, 2011
Back of the Bus, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, Penguin. 2010. $21.00 ages 6 and up
"We sit and sit,
not goin' no place.
Nothin' to do but sweat,
so I roll my marble on that
sticky ol' seat and catch it
before it goes down the crack."
In December 1955 Rosa Parks showed enormous courage when she defied the idea of segregation on buses in Montgomery, Alabama. In this fictionalized account of that brave act, we see it play out through the eyes of a young boy who was riding on the same bus.
He tells readers that he and mama are sitting where they are expected to sit:
"Winter's here in Montgomery,
but I got the window down
and a warm breeze blowin' in
as Mama and me
huff down Cleveland Avenue
on the big ol' bus.
We're sittin' right where we're supposed to -
way in back."
As they roll along he plays with his shiny marble. When it rolls away from him, it is grabbed up by Mrs. Parks. She happily sends it right back where it came from, and the playing stops. His mama is tired and has no time for play as they roll toward home. The bus is filling up. It isn't long before the bus driver motions for some people to move further back.
Mrs. Parks refuses to move. The bus driver threatens to call the police. It has no effect on Mrs. Parks. The bus is at standstill and anger is building. The boy doesn't understand:
"Some folks look back,
givin' us angry eyes.
"We do somethin' wrong, Mama?" I say all soft.
"No, we ain't:," she says.
But I ain't sure,
'cuz I'm getting shaky legs."
When he sees that it is Mrs. Parks causing the disturbance, he knows that she should be where he and his mama are. Or should she? The policeman arrives. Mrs. Parks is adamant about her rights and is arrested, and taken off the bus. Her action has an impact on the mother and the boy. Both hold their heads a little higher and stand a little taller. He may have been frightened at the outset; but he has learned something about courage from the calm actions of a very special friend.
Floyd Cooper 's artwork is outstanding. Using his signature subtractive oils on board style, he creates warm and realistic portraits of this story's three main characters as they ride the crowded bus at the end of a long day. Rosa Parks remains calm and stoic, despite the escalating emotion. It is clear to readers in the faces of the boy and his mama that their lives have changed because of her heroism. Look closely to see if you recognize other civil rights leaders on the bus seats. I think I do.