Big Picture 22: Equal Opportunity
I love a good picture book biography! As a reader, I appreciate the narrative voice of the text and the opportunity to learn about someone else’s life—experience their hardships, their dreams, and their successes. As a writer, I marvel at the author’s ability to condense their research into a short story that connects with and captivates young readers. “Captivates” is the key word; it’s the style, voice, and word choice of the author that draws us in; otherwise, we’d feel as if we were reading an encyclopedia or a textbook.
Author Keila V. Dawson certainly captivates her audience with the first line in Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and his Green Book. The line, “Victor Hugo Green was tired of hearing no,” is the perfect door into the story for children as they are usually familiar with the word no. As expected from this first line, Dawson keeps the story accessible to her young readers, even though the book is about a complex and painful subject: segregation.
Dawson shines a spotlight on an aspect of segregation I had not considered before: traveling long distances by car. Readers cannot help but think about the difficulties Black travelers faced—no place to stop for food, bathrooms, rest, or even care when sick or injured. But Victor Hugo Green worked to change that and Dawson writes a beautiful, musical line about his Green Book: “It was a ten-page guide filled with safe spaces and friendly faces for Black travelers in New York City.” While Dawson acknowledges that we still have a long way to go in the fight against racism, her book shows how one ordinary man’s idea changed the lives of many Black Americans; keeping them safe, bringing patrons to Black-owned businesses, and informing them of Black achievements and history.
Illustrator Alleana Harris’ art complements Dawson’s text well. Her art is focused and, like the text, accessible to young readers. The backgrounds aren’t cluttered with details, so our attention is immediately brought to the hardships and emotions caused by Jim Crow laws and discrimination. We see these emotions change as Victor’s Green Book is published and used by Black citizens. We can see the joy Victor feels as he works to distribute and update the book and the way the Green Book helps Black travelers enjoy all the things white American travelers had privilege to.
This book is nominated for the 2024 Illinois Bluestem Award, which was created by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators. Students in grades 3-5 can read and vote for their favorite title. Read more about the Bluestem Award here.
What is segregation?
Why does segregation happen?
How can I make a difference when I see a problem?
CCSS RI.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
CCSS RI.3.2 Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.
CCSS RI.3.4 Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area.
CCSS RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS W.3.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
CCSS.SL.3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.SL.3.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.SL.3.6 Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.
WIDA ELD 1 English language learners communicate for social and instructional purposes within the school setting.
WIDA ELD 2 English language learners communicate information, ideas, and concepts necessary for academic success in the content area of language arts.
Please subscribe to access the teaching resource I created for you! It’s a great tool to check comprehension using all four language domains–listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Perfect for resource and classroom teachers and provides at least 30-45 minutes of instructional time. Developed with multilingual learners in mind, but great for all learners.