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Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation
Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, Authors
James E. Ransome, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Historical Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020
Suitable for ages: 6-9
Themes: Train Ride, African Americans, Segregation, Friendship
Opening: “Trains! The clicket-clack of the wheels and the low song of the whistles. As the huge engines rushed by our farm, Granddaddy and I always stopped our work to watch and to dream of climbing on board a powerful train and traveling to distant, strange places.”
Book Jacket Synopsis:
Michael loves watching the trains as they rush by his Alabama farm on their way to far-off places. And today, Michael’s dream is coming true: he’s taking his first train journey to visit cousins in Ohio!
When Michael and his grandmother board the train, the conductor directs them to the “colored only” section. But when the train pulls out of Atlanta, the signs come down, and a boy runs up to Michael, inviting him to explore. The two new friends happily scour the train — until the conductor calls out “Chattanooga,” the sign go back up, and Michael is abruptly ushered to the “colored section” for the rest of the ride.
How come Michael can go as he pleases in some states, but has to sit in segregated sections in others? How could the rules be so changeable from state to state — and so unfair?
Based on author Michael S. Bandy’s own recollections of taking the train as a boy during the segregation era, this story of a child’s magical first train trip is intercut with a sense of baffling injustice, offering both a hopeful tale of friendship and a window into a dark period of history that still resonates today.
Why I like this book:
Michael Bandy and Eric Stein’s story captures the joy of a boy’s first train ride from Alabama to Ohio during the segregation era of the 1960s. When Michael and his grandmother board the train they are directed to the “colored only” car. Imagine his confusion when the train leaves the station and the conductor removes the signs as the train moves different states. He’s free to move around.
It’s also a story about the innocence of childhood, when a boy, Bobby Ray, enters Michael’s train car and invites him to explore the train together. They discover a dining car and an area with beds for night travel. They also enjoy playing with little green army men, sharing scars on their limbs and drawing pictures. Bobby Rae draws something very special for Michael and hands it to him, just before they reach Chattanooga and the conductor puts the signs back up and ushers Michael back to his seat. Such a beautiful story about how friendship can transcend unfair laws.
This is a sensitive and perfect book to share with young children about race relations in our country. It is an excellent introduction to segregation. James E. Ransome’s beautiful watercolor illustrations capture the magic of Michael’s first train ride, with beautiful landscapes of the countryside and cities and large close-up pictures of the boys interacting.
Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end of the book that addresses the laws that created this unjust travel condition, beginning in 1887 with the Interstate Commerce Act. This book is an excellent discussion book for families and deserves a place in every school library.
Michael S. Bandy is the coauthor, with Eric Stein, of White Water, and Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box. White Water was adapted into an award-winning screenplay that was developed into a film. Stein was also the cowriter and coproducer of the film. Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation is the third book in this series. Bandy lives in Los Angeles and Stein lives in Sherman Oaks, California.
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