Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Rosa Book Poster Image
Spectacular illustrations spotlight Parks' historic protest.

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Educational Value

A powerful yet accessible portrayal of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement. It may be hard for today's kids to understand the kind of daily injustices and humiliations of the segregation era, but this book will help. It also teaches kids about a true American hero.

Positive Messages

Sometimes people have to stand up (or in this case sit down) for their rights, even at great personal risk. And if one person stands up, sometimes others follow, and together they can change the world -- or at least their corner of it.

Positive Role Models

Rosa Parks is a hero not just of the civil rights movement but an American hero who embodies our nation's cherished values of individual rights and equal opportunity under the law. By doing something as simple as sitting where everyone should have a right to sit, she challenged the whole system of segregation that would be made illegal by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Violence & Scariness

The Emmet Till lynching is mentioned.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this picture book biography, written by acclaimed African-American poet Nikki Giovanni, deals with the historical realities of discrimination, focusing on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, and also mentions the Emmet Till lynching. Much of the context of these events is left unexplained, so an adult will be needed to fill in the gaps.

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What's the story?

Traveling home from work on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, AL, African-American Rosa Parks is ordered by the driver to give up her seat to a white passenger. Sitting in the neutral section between the white and black sections of the bus, Mrs. Parks refuses to get up. The driver calls the police, and Mrs. Parks is arrested. When word spreads about her act of defiance, other community leaders get together to organize a boycott of the buses until the segregation is ended. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., blacks in Montgomery refuse to ride the buses for almost a year, until finally they achieve their goal.

Is it any good?

It's easy to see why ROSA won both the Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott Honor -- the illustrations are spectacular. Bold yet detailed, they show Rosa Parks as she was -- not an old lady too tired to get up, but a strong young woman tired of oppression. In paintings that combine watercolor and collage,  realistic images of people are set against slightly abstract backgrounds with skewed perspectives. The pictures radiate heat, light, and power.

Poet Nikki Giovanni's text is at times preachy, however, and Parks is portrayed as perhaps more than a mere mortal -- at times Bryan Collier's art suggests a halo above her. Though the book is aimed at 4- to 8-year-olds, some of the story will go over their heads, and many things are unexplained. What is the NAACP? What happened to Parks after the police came? There is a vivid picture of a cop confronting her, but her actual arrest is not mentioned. And she virtually disappears from the book halfway through. Various news events, such as the lynching of Emmet Till and freeing of his killers, are mentioned but not explained; an author's note would have been welcome. These events can be used as openings for parents to discuss them in more detail with their kids, but the book on its own may be confusing. Still, this is a gorgeously illustrated introduction to a watershed event.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how kids can stand up for what is right in their own lives. What would you do if you saw someone being treated unfairly? How can you use words and calm action to bring change?

  • Older kids can discuss the background to the story -- segregation, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement.

Book details

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For kids who love African-American books

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