Nikki Giovanni's Rosa
illustrations by Bryan Collier
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
The resolve of Rosa Parks
Nikki Giovanni doesn't limit herself to the standard 500 words common to picture books in this historic account of Miss Parks' place in the Montgomery bus boycott.
The heroic Miss Rosa deserves a few more words than that, and this book, aimed at an older picture book crowd, delivers.
The text assumes some basic knowledge on the part of the reader. The NAACP, for instance, is referenced without explanation, just as the text uses the verb "lynch" in a matter of fact fashion.
This is probably a good book for children to read with adults nearby, to provide background, context and comfort.
The author introduces us to a number of persons tied to the boycott, but none more important than Rosa. She explores her not just from the outside, but from the great woman's point of view as well. Here's how she handles the mythology surrounding Miss Parks' just being too tired to give up her seat.
She sighed as she realized she was tired. Not tired from work but tired of putting white people first. Tired of stepping off sidewalks to let white people pass, of eating at separate lunch counters and learning at separate schools.
Illustrator Collier won a 2006 Caldecott Honor for his efforts here, and it's well-deserved. In contrast to the author's detail, Collier tends to focus on the soul. When the bus driver insists that she give up her seat, Collier not only zooms in on Rosa's eyes, he has those eyes stare directly at the reader.
Just like an actor "breaking the fourth wall" on stage, Collier uses this technique to allow Rosa to communicate directly with us, wordlessly. We can see her will, her strength.
(This is the image the publisher wisely chose for the cover. Scroll back up to see.)
Three images later, as a policeman asks, "Auntie, are you going to move?," Collier chooses to focus on Miss Parks' hands, clutching her purse.
Courage isn't about not being scared. Quite the opposite.
Rosa is a fitting tribute to a great woman, published in the year of her death, fifty years after she sat her way into our hearts.
More children's books about children's books about Rosa Parks.
More Caldecott honorees.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
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