Ruth and the Green Book

I’m back from South Texas and back on my blog!  It’s great to see the kids at school again after the winter break, but boy, do they wear me out! I introduced mystery stories and mystery writing to my fourth grade students this week.  We will be working on our stories for the next six weeks. I’ve decided to write one with them for my first picture book manuscript of the year. We have several mystery picture books in our library collection. Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective by David Biedrzycki is one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Now for Perfect Picture Book Friday Sponsored by Susanna Leonard Hill! You would think I might choose a mystery, but…nope! I chose a historical fiction picture book that I brought home from school before the holiday break. It is called…

Ruth and the Green Book

Written by Calvin Alexander and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Published in 2010 by Carolrhoda Books

This book is suitable for ages 8-12

Themes: civil rights, travel, history, African Americans

“It was  a BIG day at our house when Daddy drove up in our very own automobile-a 1952 Buick! It is the most beautiful color. Daddy calls it Sea Mist Green. He bought it for his new job, but first, we planned to go on a trip to visit Grandma in Alabama…” As Ruth and her parents enter the deep South, they encounter gas station attendants and motel operators who turn them away because they are African American.  Ruth does not understand why they are being treated this way. Ruth’s father finally finds an Esso service station where the attendant introduces him to the Green Book. The guide lists all of the establishments in the South where their business is welcome. Ruth helps her father by locating an inn in the Green Book where they can stay on their way to Grandma’s house.

Links to Resources:

Green Book Lesson Unit including comprehension questions about Ruth and the Green Book

Official site for Ruth and the Green Book

University of South Carolina Green Book digital images collection

Why I like this book: I taught African American history units for years, and I had never heard of the Green Book prior to reading this picture book. (I’m really quite stunned that I did not know of its existence.) The official name of the guide was The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, and it was first published in 1936 by an African American named Victor Green.  Green saw a need for such a guide during the era of segregation in America. Ruth and the Green Book is a work of realistic fiction that accurately captures the experience of  many African American motorists traveling in the South during the period of Jim Crow.

As I read the story, I thought about how scary it would feel to see signs everywhere telling me that I was not welcome. Where would I get gas? Where would I eat or sleep?  While the Green Book was a godsend for so many African American travelers in the South, it was also a testament to the injustice that existed for African Americans in a country that preached equality for all. In his introduction, Green wrote: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.” The last edition of the Green Book was published in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

This book is an American Library Association Notable Children’s book and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Book.


22 responses to “Ruth and the Green Book

  1. Catherine Johnson

    That is a great one for teaching children respect. I hadn’t heard of the Green Book either.

  2. I got goosebumps reading this. The resources look excellent, Kelly, and like you, I wonder that this hasn’t become a mainstream resource for African American history units. So glad you found this treasure for us.

  3. This sounds like a really powerful book. I’m going to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This book sounds fantastic and I love your thoughtful review and the suggested activities. Have you read The Watson’s Go To Birmingham? Not a picture book, but about this same period and very good. I’m sure you have, being a librarian 🙂 I’m excited to see a picture book on this topic. I just finished reading The Help and am currently reading, kind of by chance, The Secret Life Of Bees, both of which also have to do with this time period and subject matter, so I’ve been thinking about it. Great addition to our list. I’m definitely going to have to read this one!

    P.S. We LOVED Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective at our house and were always hoping for sequels!

    • Susanna, I have read The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, but if the Green Book is mentioned I cannot remember. Last year it was one of my book club picks. I LOVED the the Help!!! Read it a couple of years ago and then went to see the movie with my teacher friends-both book and movie are great! I have only seen the movie The Secret Life of Bees, but I’ll be the book is even better. 🙂

  5. Again another winner. I always love to see what you select. Even though I am not African-American, I can resonate with this book. I was born around that time and I remember in the 1950s traveling to the south to visit my cousins. I was so upset when I saw signs for restrooms and entrances to movie theaters. I could not understand. And, some of my southern family was prejudice. I remember walking down the street and having to cross to the other side because they wouldn’t share the sidewalk. I hated the trip and never wanted to go back. As I got older, I always got into heated conversations when I had to visit. Of course I wouldn’t win and would end up so angry. Children need to know the history. And, I think these experiences of inequality were so etched in my mind that they influence my career later on.

  6. I can’t imagine living during that time and being the person I am-like you I would have been very angry to see the signs. You are right-kids need to know the history-when I talk to my students about this period in American history, some of them are so shocked while others know a good deal already.

  7. You have found a gem, Kelly — what a powerful book this sounds! I have done a great deal of reading about that time period (in adult nonfiction) and I don’t remember reading about the Green Book. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • You’re welcome, Beth! I have always been fascinated by the civil rights movement and have also read many books on the subject-funny how I never heard of this-so glad a picture book author decided to write about it.

  8. Oh my this is an amazing find Kelly! It reminded me so much of when I used to have a pen friend in the USA. We were both about 8 – 10 years old and over time would write often, sometimes once a week. One Christmas Mum brought for me to send her as a gift a Maori doll. We never heard from her again. It wasn’t till much later she explained what could have happened, when she realised too late the relationships of those living in the south.
    Here in NZ we never experienced this.
    Very interesting book and review Kelly, thanks.

    • How fascinating-and so sad. I had to look up “Maori doll” as I’ve never heard of them. How awful that you never heard from your friend again. I am disgusted by racism in the South-past and present. NZ sounds like a wonderful place.

  9. I agree we need more books like this on the market. As I was reading the review, I think I have read this book before. I will have to go find it at the library and revisit it. I love history books, and the civil rights movement is a particular period that I am drawn to. Thank you for your review!

    • You bet! I have also been interested in learning about the civil rights movement for many years now. Mom and I visited Little Rock High School a few summers ago-hard to fathom what those nine African American students had to endure.

  10. I grew up in the south, so I’m always interested in books on this topic. This period always makes me sad (and uncomfortable) as I can’t imagine how or why people allowed this to happen.

  11. Wow, what a find. I have read a lot about this era and never heard of the Green Book, either. What a sad testament to man’s inhumanity to man. Thank you for this important review.

  12. I feel sad thinking that they had to publish a book with the places an African-American can go to. 😦 😦 It’s hard for me to think that people could treat others like that. I think I need to read this book to find out about it!


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