Review: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice - Philip Hoose

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

by Philip Hoose

Ages 10 and up

133 pages

Melanie Kroupa Books, January 2009

This is my first Nonfiction Monday post in a long while, and my first time participating in the actual event.  You can find today's roundup at Playing By The Book.

Many young readers easily sort themselves into two categories: those who prefer fiction and those who prefer nonfiction.  I can really only say I've met a handful who bridge these categories without any effort.  If I'm trying to get a fiction reader to try some nonfiction, or vice versa, I often go the biography route.  Even non-narrative biographies can be compelling reading.

As a young reader, I definitely fit into the former category, though I did love me some joke books and folklore ephemera.  Even now, I have a hard time picking up a nonfiction picture book when I could choose a fiction one.  Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice sat on my shelf for mmmrrph weeks before I finally looked at my calendar, sighed, and scheduled it for review this week.

Can I just say?  Compelling doesn't begin to cut it. Really.  As in, I'm putting all Hoose's books on my to-read pile NOW.

For those of you who, like me, have been lured away from the nonfiction side of the library by your When You Reach Mes and Homer P. Figgs, this book is an account of a little-known hero of the civil rights struggle.  Claudette Colvin was a teenager who was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for not relinquishing her seat on the bus -- eight months before Rosa Parks.  Colvin played a pivotal role in the little-known case of Browder v. Gayle, in which she and four other African-Americans successfully sued the city of Montgomery, claiming bus segregation laws were unconstitutional.

Colvin has largely been quiet about her role in the civil rights movement until recently; although she does appear in books, there are no other sources for young readers which quote her directly or provide this level of detail into her involvement.  Young people who read about the history of civil rights for African-Americans may never have known that a teenager could, and did, do so much for the movement.  Reading this book may very well provide a huge breakthrough for students who may be interested in participating on a personal level in social justice.

Hoose has compiled a winning collection of artifacts, quotes and historical data and interspersed it seamlessly with Colvin's own account of her experiences in the Montgomery bus boycott and court proceedings.  I wish student textbooks were written this way.  I mean, really, can't we just toss our dead white guy books in favor of a collection of award-winning, compelling nonfiction like this??

My only struggle here is knowing to whom I can recommend this book.  I think many of my fifth graders could and would enjoy it, with some guidance through some of the bits on teen pregnancy, but I doubt they'll pick it up without a lot of prodding.  All my teachers, of course, but who has time to read nonfiction?  I showed it to my principal today with a 20 cent review and she said, "Hmmm, looks kind of long."  Yeah.  True.  But really, those 133 pages (yes, I even read the notes at the end) just flew by.  I'm hoping my booktalks and reading aloud bits will lure in those students for whom nonfiction is an unexplored territory.  Maybe I'll even make some converts.  After all, you got me, Philip Hoose.

A Newbery Honor book, a finalist for the YALSA Award for Nonfiction for Young Adults, a Sibert Honor book and winner of the National Book Award.

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