Book Review | Busing Brewster
by Richard Michelson

Score: 3.5

illustrated by R.G. Roth

© 2010,  Alfred A. Knopf.

Teach Them to Your ChildrenRichard Michelson has written another excellent piece of historical fiction, this time about the “forced busing” of black students into white schools during the 1970s. Using a minimum of words and supported by the 70s-style ink and watercolor collages of R.G. Roth, he manages to convey the powerful emotions of those times as parents did what they felt best for their children and their children did their best to cope with the situation in which they found themselves.  More than a history book, however, it is also about the messages we adults send children.

Brewster’s mama believes that Brewster could be president someday. She knows that in order for that to happen, he will need the best education possible. She decides that he and his brother, Bryan, will receive a better education at a white school outside of the city, a one-hour bus ride away. Bryan is not happy, but Brewster knows that learning to read will make his mama happy, so he goes with the plan. Mama wakes up early to make breakfast and is waiting when Brewster comes home from school.

The bus’ arrival at the new school causes parent demonstrations outside and student misbehavior inside. Brewster and Bryan find themselves in the school library serving detention with a freckle-face boy who wants to start a fight before the first bell rings. Brewster befriends Miss O’Grady, the school librarian, who quickly concludes that he has the heart and determination to be anything he wants to be (which happens to be President of the United States.) Miss O’Grady supports Brewster’s dream with a story about John F. Kennedy:

“It wasn’t long ago that folks didn’t want the Irish in their schools. And just because Kennedy was Irish Catholic, people said he’d never be president. But he proved them wrong.”

In the meantime, Bryan and Freckle-face are laughing and whispering in the background. It appears that race has been put aside and a friendship is forming, at least until the school day ends and the children walk outside. That is when Brewster overhears Freckle-face’s father say, “Wish them coloreds all stayed at Franklin.” Teach your children well, indeed.

Rich Michelson not only gives us a view into a difficult time in American history, but provides a broader lesson as well. If, as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children right from wrong, if they believe all that we say and act as we do, then our burden and the burden on our teachers and all those who interact with our children is a heavy one. All our actions have consequences, whether they lead to raising a child who goes on to become the first black President of the United States or one who grows up to become an intolerant, insensitive bully.

As our world becomes increasingly more diverse and our society more global, our responsibility as parents (and the support we must extend to their teachers) is to teach our children to achieve their highest potential while exploring and embracing all of the world’s cultures in as open and gracious a way as possible. That is the message I got from reading this short history of a  difficult time in America. I encourage you to read it as well.

Grade Level: 1st-5th

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
The Book used in this review is from my personal collection.
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