Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack

Author: Patricia C. McKissack
Title: Goin’ Someplace Special
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2001
ISBN: 0-329-27980-7

‘Tricia Ann is ready, ready to go to that Someplace Special in the city on her own. Her grandmother reluctantly lets her, giving her parting words of advice, “No matter what, hold yo’ head up and act like you b’long to somebody.” From the time she steps onto the bus with its colored section to the time she is swept into the White’s only Southland Hotel only to be told, “No colored people are allowed!” ‘Tricia Ann is confronted with the signs of bigotry and prejudism that existed in the 1950’s. In tears, she escapes to a church ruin, now a quiet garden cared for by an elderly white woman who advises her to listen close for her grandmother’s voice. “Getting’ someplace special is not an easy route. But don’t study on quittin’...,” she hears in her heart. Even though more signs of prejudism confront her, ‘Tricia Ann makes it to her Someplace Special, one of the few places that accept all people, equally... the public library.

Time after time, ‘Tricia Ann meets up with the signs of bigotry and prejudism that existed in the 1950’s, so much so that the story is almost overwhelming in its message of racial injustice. Most picture books with this theme focus on one or two examples of the unfairness of the Jim Crowe laws, but McKissack seems to cram as many as she can into a 32 page picture book. However, in real life, this would have been the case. ‘Tricia Ann wouldn’t have been able to choose what she saw that day or what comments would have been made to her. So, even though it’s a little overwhelming, so was the reality of the times.

Behind the message of racial injustice is a story about a plucky young girl ready and willing to face the world in order to achieve her goal. She steps out from a loving home run by a strong maternal figure (her grandmother) to confront the world with a smile on her face and confidence in her step. The speech pattern brings to the story the flavor of the Black southern dialect but in a way that even young children will be able to understand.
Pinkney’s illustrations add details of the times, from the “White’s only” signs, ‘Tricia Ann’s white bobby socks and black shoes and purse, to the fin backed cars of the 1950’s. ‘Tricia Ann with her beautifully textured hair and soft brown skin dressed in her bright turquoise blue and yellow dress contrasts with the softer, muted colors used for the people and the world around her, keeping the focus on ‘Tricia Ann and her emotional reactions to the events in her life. Pinkney’s illustrations are what make this a story about ‘Tricia rather than solely a treatise against prejudism. ‘Tricia Ann is the link that pulls the reader into the story, making it believable, allowing the message to take heart.
The addition of an author’s note relating her personal experiences during the same era help the reader to realize that this story is semi-autobiographical. Patricia McKissack, too, found refuge in one of the few places that treated everybody equally. Yes, it was the public library.

Review excerpts:
(August 2001) “Pinkney’s watercolor paintings are lush and sprawling as they evoke southern city streets and sidewalks as well as ‘Tricia Ann’s inner glow.... This book carries a strong message of pride and self-confidence as well as a pointed history lesson.” (Ages 5-8)

Horn Book (November/December 2001) “McKissack and Pinkney strike just the right balance in a picture book for young readers and listeners: informative without being preachy; hopeful without being sentimental.”

Kirkus Review (September 2001) “Every plot element contributes to the theme.... A natural for group sharing; leave plenty of time for the questions and discussions that are sure to follow.” (5-9)

Library Talk (March/April 2002) “This book... would be a wonderful addition to library and school collections. Recommended.”

Publishers Weekly (August 6, 2001) “Pinkney’s... luminescent watercolors evoke the ‘50s, from fashions to finned cars, and he captures every ounce of ‘Tricia Ann’s eagerness, humiliation and quiet triumph at the end.” (Ages 4-8)

School Library Journal (September 1, 2001) “A thought-provoking story for group sharing and independent readers.” (Gr 3-5)

Coretta Scott King Awards Winner 2002 Illustrator
ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award Winner 2002 Picture Books
Monarch Award Master List (IL) 2007
ALA Notable Children’s Books 2002
The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2002 Bank Street College of Education
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award Nominee 2003 (Maryland)
Colorado Children’s Book Award List 2003
Delaware Diamonds 2003
Georgia Children’s Literature Awards 2003
Kentucky Bluegrass Award 2003
Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award 2003
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award 2002-2003
Texas Bluebonnet Award 2004

As school history books are politically edited, toning down the importance of various events and people in history or cutting them out altogether, it becomes even more important to bring history lessons to life by using literature such as Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack. Read other books like Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford, My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris, The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, and Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. Every one of these books adds to the sense of the times.
If you’re daring, try an exercise on prejudism with the children. For example, people who can fold their tongues will get to line up first, get a drink from the closest water fountain, use the closest bathroom, sit in the closest desks. Then switch and make it the people who cannot fold their tongues who get the privileges. Follow this exercise and the book readings up with a class discussion. How did you feel when...? How do you think people of color felt when the Jim Crow laws were in effect? Close with an emphasis on the injustice of those laws and the unfairness of prejudism. Most children understand when something is unfair. Hopefully, this lesson will never be forgotten, unlike the history textbook.


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