At 6, Ruby Bridges integrated a previously all-White elementary school in New Orleans—an act of courage that still reverberates today. Though the activist has told her story before, with the picture book I Am Ruby Bridges (Orchard/Scholastic, Sept. 6), illustrated by Nikkolas Smith, she addresses a younger audience. Our review calls it “a unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era.” Bridges answered our questions by email.
You’ve told your story before. Why was it important to tell it for younger readers, and how did you approach it this time?
History is so important to learn so that we hopefully never repeat the mistakes of the past. The earlier we learn those life lessons, the better; therefore, my approach for this younger audience was to talk about my story from the perspective of my 6-year-old self, with a bit of my humorous side included. And working with Nikkolas Smith, whose beautiful images bring these words to life, was a joy.
Your book publishes at a time when we’re seeing push back against books that confront racism. Was it a different experience writing this book compared with earlier titles?
No, but the recent banning of books—especially those that reflect the truth about our history—made this book even more important for me to write.
When you were a young child, what books resonated with you?
Dr. Seuss books were those that I cherished the most, because growing up they were sent anonymously to me every month, from the age of 6 until I was 9. My parents couldn’t afford to buy us books; therefore I was grateful to get them and start my very own collection and library!
Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.