Goin’ Someplace Special

by Patricia C. McKissack; ill. Jerry Pinkney

Atheneum, 2001

40 pages

Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve become painfully sensitive to the idea of parenting under hardship.  My heart twists around itself every time I think of families who are living through famine, war, oppression, or crushing poverty.

This sensitivity reaches back into history, too.  I find myself on the verge of tears when I read about 19th-century street “urchins”; I’m devastated by the bareness of post-Holocaust Jewish family trees.

Living in the American South, where the toxic legacy of slavery and Jim Crow still seeps to the surface of daily life, I also find myself thinking about black families in the pre-Civil Rights era.  How did they build family unity when they could be sold apart any day?  How did parents fill their children’s hearts with love and confidence when the world was filled (literally) with signs telling them they were inferior?

As hard as it is, I want my daughter to think about these things, too.  I want her to know about the realities and injustices of life so she can better understand the importance of fighting them–and better appreciate the beauty of the people who live with dignity despite them.

Patricia McCissack’s Goin’ Someplace Special is a great way to introduce a young girl to this kind of information, and to the ways people bloom regardless.

This book is the story of young ‘Tricia Ann’s first solo journey to the public library, the only integrated public building in her 1950s Southern town.

She leaves home excited and energetic, but her enthusiasm begins to flag as she encounters reminder after reminder of the race hatred that permeates society at large.

She has to stand in the “Colored” section of the bus when there are empty seats up front.  She can’t sit down to admire the park fountain her grandfather helped to build–the surrounding benches are all marked “Whites Only.”  When a celebrity-watching crowd sweeps her into the lobby of a whites-only hotel, the manager yells at her and kicks her out.

At the same time, however, ‘Tricia Ann meets members of her own race who speak encouragement and empowerment.  A woman on the bus tells her, “Carry yo’self proud.”  A young man on the street admonishes, “Don’t let those signs steal yo’ happiness.”  And just as ‘Tricia Ann is about to give up, an old woman reminds the girl of all the love and strength her grandmother has poured into her.

So she makes it to her destination, where she finally sees a good sign: “Public Library: All Are Welcome.”

My daughter was mesmerized by this book.  She admired ‘Tricia Ann’s bravery, fumed over the “meanies” who mistreated her, and gaped with delight at the “surprise” ending (we’re rather into libraries at our house).

And when she learned that the book draws on the author’s childhood experiences in Nashville, Tennessee (where the public library integrated all its facilities in the late 1950s), she was just plain inspired.

I think it was primarily the idea that a real girl, one not much older than herself, could be brave and persistent enough to do what ‘Tricia Ann does–run the ugly gauntlet of white supremacy and emerge victorious in her own spirit.

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