Review of “Ruth and the Green Book” by Calvin Alexander Ramsey

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This “historical fiction” picture book for kids will acquaint many readers with The Green Book, a yearly publication first available in 1936 that notified African Americans of places that would welcome black travelers. Before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, many hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, and other establishments would not serve African Americans.

[In 1946, for example, the famous heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson died from a car crash near Raleigh, North Carolina. Ironically, Johnson was racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him. After the crash, he was taken to St. Agnes, the closest hospital serving blacks. This hospital lacked lacked the technology that could have saved his life, which was, however, available at the closest “white” hospital, the Rex Hospital. In yet another cruel irony involving the same two hospitals, in 1950, Charles Drew, the man who found the way to preserve and store blood plasma, fell asleep at the wheel while traveling through Raleigh on his way home to Washington, DC.  He too was taken to St. Agnes, the only place that would admit him. He needed blood plasma to save his life, but the technology he invented was not available at St. Agnes and he died from his injuries.]

This story tells about a trip from Chicago taken by a little girl with her parents in the 1950’s to visit Grandma in Alabama.

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They were having a good time, but couldn’t use restrooms in gas stations, eat in restaurants along the way, nor stay in motels along the road. When they stopped at the house of one of Daddy’s friends in Tennessee, Eddy told the travelers they should look for Esso gas stations, where blacks could get served. The little girl was given the job to look out for an Esso station. The black man working there showed them The Negro Motorist Green Book, and they bought their own copy for seventy-five cents. The rest of the trip was smooth sailing, thanks to the recommendations of the Green Book. The little girl couldn’t wait to see Grandma and tell her all about it.

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An afterword gives more historical background about the book, written by Victor Green. Although it was first designed to help travelers in New York City, it proved to be so popular that the book was expanded, and eventually covered all of the U.S., Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada. The Civil Rights Bill, making such discrimination illegal, was passed on July 2, 1964, and Victor Green published the final edition of the Green Book that same year. You can find out more information about the book here, and access an entire edition of the 1949 book here.

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Floyd Cooper once again employs his trademark “subtractive process” to create the sepia-toned impression of old photos in his soft renditions of times both good and bad, showing the harshness of bigotry and the warmth of fellowship by the manipulation of color and amazingly nuanced expressions.

Evaluation: This book is an excellent way for children to understand just what “Jim Crow” was and what it meant for blacks to live under its strictures, even though they were supposed to be equal citizens. This winner of multiple awards is highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 2010

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