A harrowing quasi-biographical picture book about one girl’s quest to desegregate American schools and the hatred that tried to prevent her.
The story opens with a group of students discussing Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of young Bridges being walked to school by U.S. marshals. Immediately readers are confronted with a replica of the artwork, which includes graffiti of the N-word in the background. In an easy-to-understand first person, the anonymous child narrator dreams she is Bridges, allowing the story to delve into the details of Bridges’ life and the irony and realities of life in Jim Crow Louisiana. Bridges and her family are seen playing happily together before she qualifies to attend an all-white school—separate from her friends and family. The painterly illustrations, rich with deep yellows and striking blues, capture the cruelty of the time. In attempting to make the complex topic of racism understandable, the story undermines itself. When the narrator-as-Bridges wonders “why people were so angry at a little girl going to school,” the internalized message is revealed on the following page: “I was black.” Problematically, blackness is deemed the culprit for all the hatred this innocent girl has endured instead of racism. An author’s note devotes two sentences to further information on Bridges and two paragraphs to the Rockwell painting.
With messaging that blacks were happier before integration and explicit targeting of blackness, this is a version of the Ruby Bridges story to skip. (Picture book. 5-8)