The Story of Rosa Parks

by Patricia A. Pingry; ill. by Steven Walker

Candy Cane Press, 2007

26 pages

In the late 1980s, my parents moved our family from a suburb of Los Angeles to a small town in the American South–and the color of my life changed overnight.

From my earliest memories, I had played, worshiped, eaten, and shopped with people of every race imaginable.  The mix of languages, cultures, and ideas that had swirled through my life had invigorated me, educated me, inspired me.

But now, suddenly, everyone was white.  And many of my new classmates, it turned out, liked that just fine.  In my first year of gracious Southern living, I probably heard more racial slurs than in my entire pre-Southern life.

It didn’t take me long to start answering the slurs with challenges and questions, and my peers’ responses taught me something I’d never realized before: bigotry is born of ignorance, and it starts at home.

The corollary is a little more hopeful: open-heartedness is born of education and personal experience, and those, too, start at home.

For my family, an integrated bookshelf is a key way to put those lessons into practice. Books are a major part of our everyday life, so we seek out stories from other cultures, books about other countries, books with illustrations that depict people of color with beauty and dignity.

Patricia Pingry’s board book The Story of Rosa Parks was one of my daughter’s first such books. Less than 200 words long, it’s a beautifully succinct account of Rosa’s early life, her role in the Montgomery bus boycott, and the boycott’s impact on our nation.  Clear, folksy illustrations fill 3/4 of each double-page spread, so even infants are engaged.

My favorite part of the book is the last page.  “Rosa, and America, had won.  Thank you, Rosa, for your courage,” the text says.  The accompanying painting depicts a racially diverse group of today’s children, talking happily and energetically together as they ride a bus.

I like the message this sends to my daughter: “You win because our laws no longer forbid real association across color lines.  Your life will be richer if you open your heart to people who don’t look like you.”

I don’t think she needs me to spell it out for her, though.  The first time I read the book to her, when she was about 2 years old, she stopped me when we got to the part about the boycott.

“Wait, Mummy.  Why couldn’t Rosa sit where she wanted?” she asked (she was a very articulate 2-year-old).

I thought for a minute before answering.  “Well, in Rosa’s time, there were a lot of people who didn’t understand that God loves everyone the same, no matter what color your skin is.  They thought they were better just because their skin was light, and they made a lot of laws to keep people with dark skin from doing certain things.  They wanted to make life harder for people with dark skin and keep them in a lower place.”

“But that makes no sense!  Those people were naughty!  They should have let Rosa sit where she wanted!”

She called it what it was and didn’t hesitate to speak out.  She was obviously inspired, and her 2-year-old passion inspired me.

How do you teach your children or students to have open hearts?  How do they inspire you to do the same?

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