Nine months before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, teenager Claudette Colvin did exactly the same thing. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is the story of why the black community leaders initially decided not to make a constitutional case out of Claudette’s arrest, and then called her back as the star witness in Browder vs. Gayle, the case that broke bus segregation in Alabama.
The book follows the sequence of events that start with the context of Jim Crow and explains Claudette’s growing to commitment to activism that leads up to her arrest. Claudette is frank about the dark times that follow, as she is rejected as a suitable face for a civil rights campaign, and then becomes pregnant and is expelled from school. Nonetheless, her optimism and commitment are rewarded when she takes the stand in Browder vs. Gayle.
Hoose skillfully combines third person narration with Claudette’s own words and weaves in quotations from many of the key figures of the time. Claudette’s memories, culled from many hours of interviews, are the backbone of the text and give the book a great sense of immediacy and personal connection. These are supported with a broader explanation of the background context and fine descriptions of the other characters involved.
It can be hard to get kids to read nonfiction, though biographies are often an easy way in. Claudette Colvin is a really wonderful example of a nonfiction book that could appeal to late elementary and middle school readers: the story flows along easily and it effortlessly combines both memoir and historical information. There is also abundant of high quality, well-captioned photos that deliver great visual appeal.
Claudette Colvin was a 2010 Sibert Honor Book. The Sibert Award is for informational books and it is a great place to find appealing nonfiction for children. This year’s medal winner is Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, written by Sy Montgomery with photos by the excellent Nic Bishop. Though nonfiction is often seen by children to be a poor alternative to fiction, there are some equally compelling stories on our shelves that also happen to be true!