Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 6.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.
Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books. As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all. However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.
I have no regrets about adding this to our collection. While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!
Based on the blurb and cover photograph, it seemed like this book would contain a great deal about the historic bus incident. But it’s just one chapter of her life story. She does talk a great deal about various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement and her involvement both before and after the bus boycott. I found it very interesting how her husband was so supportive, even though he feared for her safety.
This book also covers her life after the boycott ended. Her brother left the South and decided to never return, even for visits. She and her husband moved to Detroit near him. Since Rosa Parks was the name behind the boycott, she was now a prime target for white violence and threats.
She seems to have a conflicting feeling about her fame. She’s willing to talk about it and has written this book, but she confesses to confusion and irritation over how people focus only on that one day, and points out several things that are frequently gotten wrong. But she also felt left out when she returned to Alabama.
I was surprised she named Claudette Colvin as one of the first women to get arrested over bus segregation. I’d rather gotten the impression from Twice Toward Justice that Colvin was completely forgotten. However, I can see how the comments she makes about Colvin’s pregnancy wouldn’t be welcomed!
In fact, Parks mentions many leaders of the movement, including some who were new to me. The book is dotted with black and white photographs, interspersed with the text to help bring the people and places she mentions to life. She has some acerbic commentary on uses of the most famous photographs, and includes some of her family and life that I’d never seen elsewhere.
Overall, this is a worthy addition to the field of civil rights memoirs. It’s a good introductory text for middle school or higher. I haven’t seen this checked out much, but would love to see it as a core text for English or history classes. The chapters are fairly even in length, so perhaps I might try it as a read aloud-along.
This book does include a few racial slurs and references to violence, however on a whole it is the least objectionable book about the civil rights movement that I’ve read so far. None of the violence is graphically described and all of the negative language is called out clearly. I wouldn’t have a problem with a fifth grade or even younger student reading this (assuming they could handle the text complexity) – as memoirs of the movement go, this is the best pick for a sensitive, high reading level child.