As summer nears, so does vacation season. That may mean trips to the beach or amusement parks or time visiting out-of-state family and friends. I gained new appreciation for that freedom to travel and find places to stop, eat and sleep when I read Ruth & the Green Book, a poignant picture book written by playwright and debut children’s book author Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Carolrhoda, $16.95).
Ramsey’s historical fiction story features Ruth, a girl whose family is driving from their Chicago home to her grandma’s house in Alabama. She’s excited about the trip until she learns first-hand what segregation means. They are turned away from a restroom. They have to sleep overnight in the car, because a hotel won’t take them in. The first-person narration lets you feel Ruth’s fear, homesickness and hurt and eventually her lifting spirits as she hugs Brown Bear and sings along with her parents as they drive. Finally, with the help of The Green Book, a real guide that helped black people find restaurants and lodging that were friendly to them, Ruth’s family finds places where they will be welcome on the way to grandma’s loving house. It’s an important story that’s told, through words and evocative sepia-toned images, with grace and power.
(Here’s a link to an actual 1949 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book: http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Race/R_Casestudy/87_135_1736_GreenBk.pdf)