Monday, January 17, 2022

A Little Child Shall Lead Them: She Persisted: Ruby Bridges by Kekla Magoon

Little Ruby Bridges was a farm-to-city girl. As a preschooler, she played and helped pick and prepare the food the family grew. But her parents knew she was bright and needed to go to school, so they moved from the farm to New Orleans, and Ruby had a happy year in the Kindergarten class at Lockett Elementary School Kindergarten, which was all black children as the laws of Louisiana required.

But in 1954 the Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that all public schools must be integrated.

That summer all black children were required to take a scholastic test:

The test was very hard, on purpose. The white people who designed the test to be so hard that none of the black children would pass.

But Ruby Bridges scored very high, one of only four black children who passed the test, and she was assigned to begin first grade at William Franz Elementary School. But although the school was only a short walk from her house, it had been an all-white school and parents and non-parents were very angry. On the first day, crowds of them surrounded the school, with weapons and signs demanding that the school not be integrated--ever. For her safety, Ruby had to be driven by Federal Marshalls to the school and escorted inside and all the way to her classroom--where she found herself the only student of her teacher, Mrs. Henry.

"I was going to integrate William Frantz Public School and I was going to be alone," she wrote later.

At that moment Ruby was not afraid. She was only sad that she could not be with her friends any more. At six years old she had no idea what a huge moment in history she was about to be part of.

Almost all adults and some children are familiar with the Norman Rockwell painting of little Ruby, in her little white dress, with white socks and shoes, and beribboned braids, surrounded by protective federal marshals as an angry crowd screamed and tossed ripe tomatoes at her. But Ruby Bridges bravely walked into a new world, inside to a now integrated William Frantz School. That painting, which now hangs outside the Oval Office in the White House, is an iconic symbol of the courage and determination of those brave souls who eventually overcame school segregation.

Coretta Scott King award-winning author Kekla Magoon tells the essence of the story of Ruby Bridges in language accessible for young readers in a short chapter book, describing how the six-year-old felt during that very unusual first-grade year--how Ruby sometimes hid her sandwich, hoping to get to go to the lunchroom with the other first graders and how Mrs. Henry stopped lunching with other teachers so that Ruby would not be lonely eating alone in their classroom.

Illustrated by Gillian Flint, She Persisted: Ruby Bridges (Philomel Books, 2021) is one of the books about persistent girls and women in the series She Persisted.

Beginning Black History Month with what the children know best, the schoolroom, this is a perfect read-aloud to begin February observances and activities. "A context-offering complement to Bridges’ own books for children." says Kirkus Reviews.

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