‘Back of the Bus’

Not very long ago, a couple days after you were born, mama and daddy tucked you and buckled you tight for your first ride home. They wanted your little self to be safe, so they put you in the back seat where nothing bad would happen to you.

Since that day not very long ago, you’ve spent plenty of time in all sorts of vehicle seats, mostly in back because that’s where kids like you are out of harm’s way. Being in the front seat, next to mom or dad, is a place for big kids and grownups.


But what if where you sit was determined by something other than your size? Read more in “Back of the Bus” by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

It’s the end of the afternoon in Montgomery, Ala., December 1955. A small boy is at the back of the bus with his mother—just where they’re supposed to be—and he’s going home at the end of mama’s work day.

Mama is tired. He can see it in her eyes, so he plays quietly with his marble. It’s a pretty one that looks just like a tiger’s eye. He rolls it up the aisle and Mrs. Rosa Parks grabs it, smiles at him, and rolls it back. Mama has her strong chin on, and she shakes her head “no” at him, but he knows Mrs. Parks don’t mind.

Because it’s quittin’ time for lots of people, the bus gets more and more crowded. People are crammed in tight, all jammed up. The boy hears the bus driver say, “Y’all gotta move, now.”

And then the bus stops.

The boy can hear voices, some back-talking, and the bus driver says he’s going to call the police. The boy plays with his marble but he knows something’s wrong because mama’s got that voice like it is.

He puts the marble away safe and people start looking around. He feels scared.

And then, way up front, he sees Mrs. Parks sitting in a seat with her strong chin on. People are looking at her all angry and she’s sitting there, acting like nothing, like she belongs in that seat.

And the boy thinks that maybe she does…

When I finished this book, something rare happened: I was speechless. “Back of the Bus” is a wham of a story masquerading as a children’s picture book, which means that adults are going to get way more out of it than kids will.

But don’t let that stop you from getting it for your child. Reynolds tells the story of something monumental, from the viewpoint of a small witness to a big action. The illustrations by Floyd Cooper, done in shades of sepia with splashes of color, make this story feel like an old memory told fresh.

If you’re looking for a book that will make 4-to-8-year-old wigglers sit still, let this one do its magic.

“Back of the Bus” will keep your kids in their seats for a good while.

(“Back of the Bus” by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper c.2010, Philomel Books, $16.99/$21, Canada, 32 pages.)

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