Back of the Bus

Written by: Aaron Reynolds

Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper

For ages: 5 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Civil Rights, POC-Centric Narratives, Activism, Historical Events, Historical Fiction, Rosa Parks.  

Summary: This book takes place on December 1st, 1955.  This is also the historic day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white person.  The narrator is a young boy, sitting with his mother in the back of the bus.  The narrator spies a woman he knows, Mrs. Parks, at the front of the bus.  When the bus fills up, a voice demands that some folks move to the back.  Some people move, but one doesn’t.  The narrator can’t hear exactly what’s happening, but his mother tells him to be quiet and they both strain to listen.  He recognizes that his mother is using a serious voice, and he waits and waits while the bus that should be moving along the route continues to be stopped.  He realizes that Mrs. Parks is in the front of the bus with fierce eyes he compares to a lightning storm.  A police officer gets on the bus, and begins to question why Mrs. Parks won’t give up her seat.  She’s arrested, and escorted off the bus.  The book ends with the narrator noticing his mother has a lightning storm in her eyes now, and notices that he feels a little stronger than yesterday.

This book is a great introduction to both the Civil Rights movement and activism.  Written from the boy’s perspective helps young readers empathize and become engaged with the story.  The plot line easily opens up discussions for fairness, racism, activism, and historical figures.  While Rosa Parks certainly wasn’t the first woman to partake in this specific form of activism and rebellion on public transportation (one was, among many others, Claudette Colvin!) she is certainly the most well-known.  While Rosa was far from the kindly old lady who was just fed-up, she is a figurehead in history and a worthy role-model for any child!

It is crucial to recognize that the story most individuals are taught in schools about Rosa Parks has been watered down and made palatable.  She was a well-established activist by the time these boycotts came around, and had indeed been happening on public buses since the 1940’s.  We believe that it is important to have a highly accessible entry point for children learning about activism, but it must not stop there!

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you think about the fact some people couldn’t sit specific places on the bus?
  • Have you ever heard of Rosa Parks before?
  • What can you do if you see someone being treated unfairly?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about important historical figures like Claudette Colvin and Bayard Rustin.  What activism did they become involved with, and why are they lesser known than Rosa?
  • The struggle for equality is not over yet.  Who can you write letters or give a phone call to, for this cause?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Aaron Reynolds_0Aaron Reynolds is the author of numerous great books for kids, including “Chicks and Salsa”, “Tale of the Poisonous Yuck Bugs, The Nineteenth of Maquerk, “and “Breaking Out of the Bungle Bird. “He lives near Chicago, where his wife, two kids, and four cats keep life spicy.

 

 

Floyd-CooperFloyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984, he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books, and he now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.

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