Small Shoes, Great Strides: How Three Brave Girls Opened Doors to School Equality

Carolrhoda. Nov. 2023. 40p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781728419237.
Gr 2-4–Ten minutes before Ruby Bridges made her escorted walk into elementary school back on November 14, 1960, Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost entered McDonogh No. 19 Public School in New Orleans. They were first graders, Black, facing protestors, and they counted on members of the U.S. Marshals to keep them safe. Nelson, working closely with Tate, Etienne, and Prevost, who remained lifelong friends, has written the story of that day, accompanied by Bostic’s scenes that conjure the era perfectly for young readers. The details are gripping; this was a first grade class of just the three girls and a teacher because the parents of white children removed their own. The windows were covered with brown paper. This lasted an entire school year while the families suffered death threats, harassment, and disruption. They had to change their telephone numbers multiple times. Yet the three girls loved class and their teacher, Miss Meyers; the schoolroom scenes glow like oil paintings. When the girls are transferred, with all other students, to Semmes Elementary, the book becomes bleak; all Black children are bullied by students and teachers alike. The story ends there. Glossary, bibliography, websites, an author’s note, and follow-up information about the three women who helped change the course of segregation are all part of the back matter.
VERDICT Caution any readers taking this on alone about content; it’s brutal, enlightening, hopeful, and realistic. An important piece of history, the book is a treasure and will require classroom discussion.

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