Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose March 1, 2013

Claudette Colvin cover

Images courtesy of GoodRead.com

The Facts

133 pages; published January 2009

The Basics

Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama angry about the systematic mistreatment of blacks. One day, she just plain refused to give her up seat on a bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and hauled bodily off the bus, all the while screaming, “It’s my constitutional right!” Her actions sparked the flame that eventually led to Rosa Parks’ more famous bus stand-off and to the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott that rocketed Martin Luther King Jr. to a national civil rights platform.

Booktalk

Have you ever been so sure you’re right that you would be willing to be hurt – maybe even die – for an idea? Claudette Colvin was only 15 years old when she took a stand. You see, in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, if you were black and riding a bus, there was an expectation. That expectation was that you would never sit in any of the first 10 seats on the bus and that – if those 10 seats were already full of white people and another white person got on – well, you and all the other black people sitting in the row they wanted would have to give up your seats. That was how they did things under Jim Crow in the South, when they tried to keep black people separated from white people and give black people less at every turn.

So, there was Claudette Colvin – 15 years old – sure it was wrong. So, one day, a white lady got on her bus and Claudette didn’t give up her seat. It was a big deal. She was hauled off the bus, arrested, mistreated, called names, threatened – even some of the people in her own community were against her.

A while later, Rosa Parks did the same thing and got herself in trouble in order to spark the Bus Boycott that led to the Civil Rights Movement and changed a lot of things in the South. But there was Claudette Colvin again. In order to end that bus boycott, a lawyer filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who had been arrested on Montgomery buses. Although she knew people might want to hurt – or even kill – her for it, Claudette Colvin put herself on the line again for what was right and agreed to testify.

Would you have the courage to do what she did?

Random Thoughts

Phillip Hoose does an excellent job of exploring Claudette Colvin’s story and placing in context for readers who may have little experience with bald racism and segregationist policies. Colvin is not a saintly or perfect subject. She had some rough times and awkward elements that had nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement, but he doesn’t pull punches and handles the material very well.

In Her Words …

“Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adult around here just say something? Say it so they know we don’t accept segregation? I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.”

Awards and Honors (from http://www.GoodReads.com)

  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2009)
  • Newbery Honor (2010)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2009)
  • Cybils Award Nominee for Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-Fiction (2009)
  • Sibert Honor (2010)
  • An ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers (2010)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2011)
  • YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults Nominee (2010)
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