One night last week our whole family headed to Bee’s daycare for Family Movie Night. The center had a book fair going at the same time (very clever of them), and since Bee was a little freaked by the movie, we spent some time browsing through the books. While Bee was busy begging for an encyclopedia of horses, I spotted Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden on the clearance rack.
Ron’s Big Mission is actually the book I read to Zip last summer as a springboard into our first discussion about racism. It takes place in 1959 and is based on the true story of a young boy who challenged his library’s policy of not lending books to black patrons. What I love about this book is that it introduces elementary school kids to the ideas of civil rights, discrimination, and equality in a very empowering and hopeful way. Being set in a library also gives it a very “every-day,” relatable quality for young kids.
We’ve read the book many times and it is a great conversation-starter. Here are some concepts parents and kids can talk about:
- Is it fair that Ron can’t check out a library book because he is black?
- At just 9 years old, Ron effectively stands up for what he thinks is right. He is both courageous and persistent, and this is what results in change. Would you do the same? Would it be difficult? Might you be frightened? Would you do it anyway?
- There were (are) white people who believed in equality too, like the librarian who ultimately gives Ron his library card. I liked being able to talk to Zip about discrimination in a way that wasn’t white vs. black, but rather believers vs. non-believers in equality.
- At the same time, there are characters in the story that, while kind toward Ron, are not challenging the system – like Mrs. Fielding, who offers to check out his books for him. With older kids, this could lead to an interesting discussions about passive vs. active protest and about thinking something is wrong vs. doing something to change the system.
- Ron notices that there aren’t many books about black kids at the library. How might that affect him? How would you feel, if you were in his shoes?
And a cool twist: The boy in the story, Ron McNair, later goes on to get his Ph.D. in physics and becomes an astronaut. (Sadly, he was also among the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.)
Okay, did you stick with me through all that? If you did, here is the fun part. While I was at the book fair, I thought of you guys and how much fun it would be to share this book. So, I cleaned out their stash of Ron’s Big Mission. (By cleaned out, I mean paid for at the cashier’s table, not stuck under my coat and ran off.) If you’d like a copy, just be one of the first three people to say so in the comments and be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you for your mailing address. No contest, just first-come-first-serve. Sorry to my overseas and Canadian friends – U.S. residents only.
Are there other books you know of that introduce civil rights to young kids in a positive and age-appropriate way? I’d love to add to our library!