Summary + Review
Almost one year before Rosa Parks took her famous stand (or sit – sorry, no pun intended) on a Montgomery bus, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin had already done the same. The difference? Claudette’s actions were spontaneous, a kind of teenage rebellion based partly on her recent school studies about black history and the Constitution and partly on just being tired of tolerating unfair treatment. Rosa’s actions were planned out and strategic, designed to fuel change on a large scale. Both women were extremely important to the Civil Rights Movement, but one is well known and one is not. Why?
Phillip Hoose provides answers and describes Claudette’s background and childhood through a combination of his own narration, plus a compilation of interview responses from Claudette that he has written in a kind of autobiographical retelling. I hadn’t seen anything like this in nonfiction before, and I think the two styles blended well together and really worked. For an informational text, I was surprised to find myself on the edge of my seat during some parts.
Throughout the description of Claudette’s history, Hoose intersperses both necessary and little-known information about the time period. He also tells of the other Civil Rights leaders who played a part in Claudette’s story; I appreciated that this did not become a collective biography, though, as the focus was always on Claudette’s story.
The second half of the book revolved more around the actual Montgomery bus boycott. I had known quite a bit about this and Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership, but I hadn’t had much knowledge of the actual Supreme Court ruling that ended legal segregation on buses (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). Claudette was a part of this, too, and she was the youngest of only four to testify in the lawsuit against Montgomery, Alabama.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice ends with Claudette’s acceptance of Rosa Parks being the bigger name in U.S. history, as well as some recognition for herself. It’s a shame that more people don’t know of the important role Claudette played in the Civil Rights Movement, and I’m glad Hoose has brought it to my attention and that of many other readers. This is a book teens everywhere should be introduced to!
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is a quick and easy read. Students unfamiliar with terms like “Jim Crow” and “segregation” may benefit from some background-building prior to reading, but Hoose provides pretty complete explanations.
The book is also filled with black and white photographs and text insets that clarify the information and add plenty of interest.
There’s no profanity here, except in one case where a police officer calls Claudette a “whore.” Even the “N” word is avoided, but Hoose does not gloss over the harsh reality of how African-Americans were spoken down to by many racist whites during the time; instead, it is simply referred to as the “N” word.
It is worth mentioning that Claudette became pregnant as a teen, and Hoose discusses this some. This should not be a reason for readers to avoid the book, at all, and it should not discredit the courage and intelligence Claudette displayed at such a young age. Instead, it is a sad case of a teenage girl being taken advantage of, and maybe even an example of how a lack of sex education (probably a combo of the time period and lack of equal education opportunities) resulted in unplanned pregnancy.
– Teaching content. Obviously, any study of the Civil Rights Movement could benefit from use of this book.
– Biography study. This would be a great choice for biography reading or historical figure research.
– Nonfiction text features and other informational text studies.
Brief background about Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka, which is mentioned often in the book: Separate But Not Equal
Video of Claudette Colvin interview:
Another really great interview:
Audio of the song “Jump Jim Crow”, also mentioned in the book: Jump Jim Crow from LOC
…And, of course, there are tons of other excellent resources about the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery bus boycott, and segregation!
Even those readers who are reluctant to pick up nonfiction will find lots to love about Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Apply generously to history and/or any nonfiction instruction.