This is the first in a series of reviews of biographies for children and young people. For background on this series, please refer to the introductory article found here.
Title: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Author: Robert Coles
Illustrator: George Fold
Publication Date: 1995
Audience: Preschool-3rd grade.
Summary: In 1960,by order of the federal court, four black children were sent to two of New Orleans’ segregated white schools. Three went to one school; Ruby Bridges entered the first grade in the William Frantz Elementary School as the only black child. Ruby’s family went to church and prayed to prepare Ruby for an ordeal they could scarcely imagine. Each day crowds of adults gathered to block Ruby’s way, to shout at her, to wave signs and to threaten her, a practice that continued for months. Each day federal marshals escorted her to her classroom where she sat alone because no white parents would allow their children to attend class with her. Her teacher, Miss Hurley (Miss Henry in other references) was always amazed at Ruby’s smile, her hard work, her lack of fear or anxiety. As Miss Hurley watched one morning, Ruby stopped to face the crowd that gathered and seemed to be speaking to them. When Miss Hurley asked her about this in the classroom Ruby said, “I wasn’t talking to them; I was praying for them.” Ruby’s prayer ,which she prayed at the beginning and close of each school day, is included, an expanded paraphrase, of Christ’s prayer from the cross. An afterword tells of Ruby’s adulthood. A triumphant story.
Literary elements at work in the story: Robert Coles, noted child psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winner, was stationed with the Air Force in the south and made frequent trips to New Orleans where he saw the hatred and turmoil of desegregation. He offered to counsel with Ruby and her family during this stressful time. Ruby’s story comes from this contact. It is a single event, simply narrated, supported by George Ford’s water color illustrations that depict the anger and hatred of the crowd and the calm serenity of Ruby. Some background material may help to see the sacrifices involved in Ruby’s school attendance: her father lost his job; her grandparents were put off their farm; the grocery store near them would not allow them to shop for food
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The theme of this story is racial desegregation, its cost, its end. Ruby’s family is poor, moving from subsistence farming in the country to janitorial work in New Orleans.
Theological Conversation Partners: The support of the worshipping community, the power of prayer, the essential role of parents in developing faith, forgiveness-these are the essence of Ruby’s story. Although this detail is not included in this book, Ruby’s Mother suggested that she pray for the people each day as she approached school. Luke 23:24 is the reference on which Ruby modeled her prayer. Matthew 5: 43-48 are Jesus’ instructions to us about our enemies, again a command to pray for them.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What part does the church play in the Bridges’ life?
- What do Ruby’s parents want for their children?
- What part does prayer play in preparing Ruby for school?
- Try to imagine what it would be like to walk through an angry mob shouting at you each day, to know that parents didn’t want their children in school with you? What feelings would you have?
- Find Luke 23:24 in the Bible. Ruby modeled her prayer after this.
- What do you do when someone tries to hurt you? Makes fun of you? Says unkind things? Jesus has instructions for his disciples. Matt 5:43-48.
This review is written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.