Ruth and the Green Book

Multicultural Picture Book Read Aloud

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"Ruth and the Green Book" by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss and illustrated Floyd Cooper was published in 2010 by Scholastic Inc.

The read aloud is planned for 4th graders. "Ruth and the Green Book" is about an African American family who faces many challenges as they travel from Chicago across the country to visit Grandma in Alabama in the early 1950s. The story is told in the perspective of Ruth, an 8 year-old girl. Many service stations, restaurants, and hotels along the way refuse to serve Ruth's family. It makes Ruth sad to be so unwelcome. Ruth helps her parents spot out an Esso station, where they buy a pamphlet called The Negro Motorist Green Book for 75 cents. This Green Book lists places in lots of states where they would be welcome to sleep, eat, shop, get a haircut, and all kinds of other information. With this guidebook and the kindness of helpful strangers, Ruth and her family finally make it to Grandma's house safely.

The book has been recognized for many awards:

  • 2011 ALA Notable Children’s Book Award
  • Jane Addams Children’s Book Award
  • Gold Medal in the Children’s Picture Books (All Ages) category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards
  • Capitol Choices Noteworthy Books for Children (Ages 7-10 category)

  • This historical fiction book demonstrates a great cultural accuracy in American around 1950s. Although this book is fiction, it introduces The Negro Motorist Green Book, which is a real pamphlet published from 1940 to 1964 to aid African American travelers. The illustrations are done using a wash and repaint technique that gives the illusion of looking through old photographs. Floyd Cooper used every inch of space in the book for the illustrations, which is very appealing to young readers. This book evokes children to think about injustice, civil rights, and a sense of love and community.

  • Background Preparation

    Calvin Ramsey Reads "Ruth and the Green Book" at Bank Street Bookstore (Extended)
    Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Atlanta-based playwright, photographer, and folk art painter, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and Roxboro, North Carolina. He is a former Advisory Board Member of the Robert Woodruff Library Special Collections at Emory University in Atlanta. He is also a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award. Calvin Alexander Ramsey said that he was inspired to write this book after his Grandfather asked him for the Green Book (he thought he still need it) a few years ago. The Green Book was a country-wide guide listing various places that would welcome African Americans traveling across the United States in early 1950s.

    Floyd Cooper has been drawing since he was 3, and he has been drawing ever since. The technique Cooper uses is called oil wash on board. He paints an illustration board with oil paint, and then he does something unusual. With a stretchy eraser, he erases the paint to make a picture! He calls this method of painting a "subtractive process." He likes to demonstrate this technique for kids to show them "that there can be different approaches to age-old problems."

    "Ruth and the Green Book" provide in-dept treatment of cultural issues in the early 1950s. Ruth's innocent point of view helps reader understand the feelings of being turned down for everything simply because they are not white. In a segregated United States, many African Americans suffered discrimination everywhere they go. "White Only" signs are just about everywhere. "This is an important addition to picture book collections, useful as a discussion-starter on Civil Rights or as a stand-alone story." - starred, School Library Journal

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    Procedure for implementing the read aloud and vocabulary presentation

    1. Gather all students to the carpet. Before reading, read the title and show students the cover of the book.
    2. Ask students, "What do you think this book is about?" (short discussion)
    3. Introduce the words "discriminating" and "pamphlet" to students by showing them word cards (made before hand) and ask students to read them repeatedly for a couple of times. Ask students if they know what those words mean, and then briefly define them. "Discriminating is treating something or someone unfairly/differently. A pamphlet is a little booklet that tells you about a place, a person, an event, or anything really." Then explain the importance of those words to the story.
    4. After reading the first two pages, ask students, "What is the setting of the story?"
    5. After reading page 6, ask students, "How would you feel if you are not allowed to use the restroom because you are not white?"
    6. Ask students, "How do you think Ruth is feeling right now?" after reading page 8.
    7. After reading page 13, ask students, "Does anybody know what Jim Crow is?" Then explain that Jim Crows are a set of laws discriminated against black in nearly every aspect of public life, including travel.
    8. After reading page 14, ask students, "What does forbidding mean?"
    9. After reading page 16, explain to students what a pamphlet is and ask, "Do you think this pamphlet will be helpful to Ruth and her parents? How?"
    10. After reading page 17, ask students, "Why do you think we should help each other out?"
    11. After reading page 24, ask students, "Why do you think Ruth decided to give Brown Bear to the boy?"
    12. After finish reading the whole book, ask students, "How did this book make you feel?" "What do you think the theme of this book is or what message is the book trying to tell us?"
    13. "Do you think the Green Book is real?" Then, briefly tell students about the history of The Negro Motorist Green Book and show them the picture of it on the last page of the book.
    14. Before sending students back to their seat, show them a sample of a word chain I made. "You will use the given strips of construction paper to make 2 word chains. One will be for the word "discriminating" and the other will be "pamphlet." The first chain will have the word "discriminating" along with a definition, a synonym, and a picture. Do we remember what a synonym is? A synonym is a different word that basically means the same thing. For example, "shy" is a synonym of "timid." Label the your first strip with the vocabulary word; write a short definition of that word on the second strip; select a synonym and write it on the third strip; and draw a picture about that vocabulary word on the fourth strip. Do the same thing for the word "pamphlet." So, you should have two separate chains at the end. Each chain should have a vocabulary word, a definition, a synonym, and a picture. Once you have all of your strips completed, I'll go around to help you stable them. We have dictionaries, so make sure you take advantage of them." The word discriminating will help students understand the obstacles Ruth's family faces. The word pamphlet is a little difficult to spell, so enforcing the word will help students remember it better. Also, the Green Book is a pamphlet.
    15. At the end, ask students to "Discuss your chains with your table and talk about the different words you came up with."

    Reflection after the read aloud/vocabulary teaching presentation

    • This particular book was selected because it portrays a good sense of love and community as well as historical accuracy. It provides a genuine perspective of segregation and racial inequality. This book invite reflections, critical analysis, and response. Some of my students already have some knowledge about segregation, so this book helps activate that background knowledge.
    • The students loved the book. Students had genuine thoughts and questions about it, so I believe they gained something good out of it. Students also understood the moral of the book - helping each other out is the right thing to do. They were also very excited about the vocabulary activity. Every single student loved the word chain activity. Students were busy looking up words, discussing synonyms, writing, and drawing the whole time. Some students were unsure of what each of those two vocabulary words meant, but many students understood the words better after the word chain activity.
    • Next time, I would definitely need to not plan too much. My read aloud and vocabulary activity took longer than I expected. Maybe I need to keep an eye on the clock when I teach next time, so I can pace myself better. I would also need to work on being more assertive and vocal. I feel like I don't have a good "teacher voice" yet, so I need to work on that part. Other than that, most students behaved appropriately and listened well.
    • Implementing multicultural children's literature that is culturally and linguistically diverse relative to my elementary students has helped me understand the importance of providing an ample selection of multicultural children's literature in my future classroom. It's necessary to have literature that students can connect to, but it's even more crucial to give students opportunities to connect to a different/unfamiliar culture, value, or tradition. With the proper introduction and positive experiences, students can learn to become a culturally responsive person, who respect and understand differences, welcome new ideas/thinking, and work well with everyone.