Ruth and The Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss and illustrated by Floyd Cooper has given us a veritable recollection of life in the 1950’s as a black family traveling to areas of the Southern United States that were still ruled by Jim Crow laws. The story is of Ruth and her parents traveling from Chicago to Alabama for a visit to her grandmother’s house. The time period is indicated by Ruth’s first statement in the book about her father’s brand new 1952 Buick. As the family drives through the states, we learn rather quickly how black people were not permitted to use facilities in many public establishments. Ruth witnesses her parents fall victim to discrimination and to unkind treatment. The learning experience is important for Ruth as she learns of the real discrimination in her country. Along the way to Alabama, the family meets a gas station attendant who shows the family “The Green Book.” This book listed all of the places along the way that would welcome black travelers.
The aesthetics of the book are beautifully done as we see a loving family make their way to Alabama. The endpapers are green to match the green book of which we learn. The illustrator of the book used oil wash on board. There is a brownlike quality to the paintings which give it the appearance of pictures from the 1950’s. The illustrator brilliantly shows the reader happy faces throughout the book. When the family is discriminated against or poorly treated, the illustrator does a nice job of showing a disappointed look on the faces of those being discriminated. The genre of this book could be considered historical fiction as Ruth’s story is fiction but the role of The Green Book assisting African American travelers to evade Jim Crow is historical fact. The topic of a family traveling south to visit family members would connect to most children, however the issue of civil rights from mid twentieth century may be more suited to third grade and up.
With regard to social representation, the book is well done. This would be a great way to introduce a lesson on civil rights in a library or classroom setting. The main hardships in the plot arise when people of the south enforced the injustices of Jim Crow as Ruth and her family drove further south. The author’s purpose is to inform the reader that the green book became a helpful addition to the black community when traveling. Despite the hurtful climate of Jim Crow, the green book became an object that allowed Ruth to help her father, helped black men travel for business, and allowed for Ruth to inform another mother about the book. The sense of being helpful to her father and to others is a quality for which most children seek. There are many characters who are helpful throughout the book which in turn encourages Ruth good to do a good deed at the end of the book. Although the actions in this book are hurtful to the main characters, the factual information allows the reader to see how our country has evolved with regard to civil rights.
Bringing Ruth and The Green Book into the classroom or library could be a valuable way to introduce children to segregation and discrimination inequities in American history. While we have come some way in seeking racial equality, we still have a long way to go. As Pamela Gates and Dianne Hall Mark state as to why the study multicultural literature is so important in Cultural Journeys, Multicultural Literature for Elementary and Middle School Students, “…it offers a mirror through which children can see representations of themselves, and it provides a window by which children not of the represented culture can see into worlds and experiences not personally accessible to them (9).” In the back of the book, there are source notes about The Green Book and includes a website for the public to view a real Green Book at http://www.ruthandthegreenbook.com.