"Riding to Washington"
Written by Gwenyth Swain
Illustrated by David Geister
Suggested Grade Level: 2nd-6th grade
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This is a wonderful story about a troublemaker named Janie. She is constantly being told to do what is right, but it always seems to come after she does something wrong. Her father is about to leave on a bus trip to Washington, D.C. to see Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. Janie’s mother asks him to bring her along for the trip because she cannot handle her alone. On the bus, Janie and her father are some of the few white people among the large groups of black people. They attempt to stop at restaurants along the way, but none of them will serve mixed crowds so they continue on. When they come to a gas station, Mrs. Taylor, Janie’s dad’s friend, wants to use the bathroom, but there is a “no coloreds” sign above the door. Janie accompanies her to the gas station attendant and ask for the bathroom key. When their request is denied, Janie tells the young white attendant what her parents always tell her: do what you know is the right thing. She proceeds to confront him about the situation and he ends up giving them the bathroom key. When they finally arrive in Washington, D.C. and see Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. During his “I have a dream” speech, Janie wonders what he is really talking about. She feels Mrs. Taylor’s hand on her shoulder and realizes that his dream for equality is everyone’s dream.
This book represents element 4 because it shows how one child can change someone’s mind about a huge topic like racism. Janie stood up for something that she believed in and fought for Mrs. Taylor’s right to use a bathroom. This shows children that if they stand up for what they believe in and prove their point, they can change the way things work. They can make a difference in their world. It can be something small or large, but they’ll have a part in it as long as they know that they can start a social movement. At young ages, they may not do something like Janie did, but they can do something small like getting their grade rights to a part of the playground that is specifically for a different grade.
Lesson Plan! (The book listed in this lesson plan can be replaced with the one above.)
Another idea would be to have students come up with their own "Classroom Rights." This could be completed by the class as a whole and hung in the room on a large poster, or completed individually and have everyone's separate signs hung on a bulletin board.