Most helpful critical review
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Factual and nicely illustrated... but wordy.
on September 23, 2006
The title is promising, but misleading. "If a Bus Could Talk" implies an entertaining story for the beginning reader; but, the concept is lost as the story drags from the first few sentences. The gimmick of the driverless bus is mishandled, and one soon wonders why the author thought it necessary add a gimmick to a true story that is inherently interesting when skillfully told. One might speculate that someone early on criticized the book as being a Civil Rights manual for young adults rather than a picture book for children; hence, the story was prefaced with the garbled mess that makes up its first few pages of text. Perhaps that part was hastily added. The suggested audience is the five-to-nine age group. Any healthy five-year old will be dozing from page one. Once it becomes obvious that the prose is better suited to an older child, though, the biography itself becomes quite informative.
By the third or fourth page, the talking bus is forgotten, except for the convention of including a quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph. The story becomes a straightforward account of Rosa McCauley Parks' life story. As such, it is compelling. The KKK is mentioned early on, with dramatic descriptions of midnight raids that must have been terrifying to a black child growing up in the hostile environment of segregated Alabama. The book mentions torture, beatings and lynchings--quite graphic for a picture book. But it goes on to provide good, detailed biographical material on Rosa, from childhood into adulthood. It tells of her mother, Leona's, determination to have Rosa educated beyond the shamefully lacking, bare-minimum education provided for black children by the state of Alabama before 1960. At age eleven, Rosa went to a girl's school in Montgomery, and then "on to high school at Alabama State Teacher's College for Negroes," but was forced to drop out of school due to illness and death in the family. She did go on to get her diploma, but later on couldn't get a job that would utilize her skills. Meanwhile, she took a job at a department store, doing sewing and alterations. Here, the storyline gets a little disorganized. It gives an early account of discrimination by bus drivers and explains in detail some of the insults that black people were forced to endure under the segregation laws. This might be the perfect lead-in to Rosa's famous protest, but instead, the story jumps to Rosa's marriage to Raymond Parks and goes off on a tangent about Mr. Parks' association with the NAACP. It details Rosa's attempts to get registered to vote and how she managed to do it. Then it jumps to the "fateful day" when Rosa Parks took "this very bus" and refused to give up her seat. Her arrest follows. The book once again bogs down in a quicksand of factual details of the Civil Rights movement, describing the efforts of the NAACP, the Women's Political Council, and local black ministers to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It gets a little preachy. The young Dr. Martin Luther King and his speeches are mentioned, including his arrest and the bombing of his house as a result of his involvement in the boycott. This section barely maintains the book's pretext of being a picture book, once again sounding like a ninth-grade essay on Civil Rights. Finally, though, the storyline manages to straggle back to its simpler form and includes a few pages about freedom songs and birthday cakes. The illustrations are wonderfully rich in expressive color and soul. They beg for a simpler text.
The positive thing about this book is that it is a good, factual, biographical account of the life of Rosa McCauley Parks, probably of interest to an older child who wants to make a study of the 1960's Civil Rights movement. It is a good reference work. Its failure is that it was published in a picture-book format that is too young for its ideal audience. It should have been a chapter book.