Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose published by Melanie Kroupa Books, an imprint of Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.

Winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

From the jacket copy: "On March 2, 1955, a slim, bespectacled teenager refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Shouting 'It's my constitutional right!' as police dragged her off to jail, Claudette Colvin decided she'd had enough of the Jim Crow segregation laws that had angered and puzzled her since she was a young child."

Hoose did an excellent job of integrating quotes from Ms. Colvin with the background information about the time and events. Yet, he doesn't try to inject himself too much into the story.

The second chapter is almost entirely Colvin and the details she shares paint a vivid picture of life in Montgomery in the 1950s. One particular eye-opener: “...they wouldn't let us try anything on. I never went into a fitting roomm like white people did. The saleslady would measure me and then go get the dress or the blouse and bring it out. She'd hold it up and tell me it was a perfect fit and expect my mom to buy it.”
She also relates tracing the shape of their feet on a brown paper bag and taking the outline to the store because they were not allowed to try on the shoes.
A powerful parallel Hoose nailed is the description of the Alabama flag hanging in the courtroom and its similarity to the Confederate flag.  The period photos used generously throughout the text augment the vivid reality feel of this book. Of course, all the pictures are in black and white, subtly underscoring the context of the book.

I highly recommend this book for ages 10 and up. The text is simple enough for older elementary students, yet the unflinching look at segregation will be enough to challenge high schoolers. Would even make a  lovely companion for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here is a book trailer that includes Claudette Colvin talking about her experience: