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Lit_First Step

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Bloomsbury, 2016. 40 pages.

Rather than looking at school segregation through the lens of Brown v. Board of Education, Goodman takes readers back 100 years to the 1840s when a young African American Bostonian named Sarah bravely went to an all-white school. When Sarah was kicked out, her parents hired one of the first African American lawyers to plead their case. He ended up working closely with a white lawyer, and the two together presented Sarah’s case to a packed courtroom. They lost.

Goodman walks readers through this “first step” for school integration, ending with Brown v. Board of Education to give readers some context. Goodman’s tone throughout is matter of fact and clear. She lets the story speak for itself with rare intrusion.

Lewis’s illustrations are stunning. Composition, perspective, palette–it’s all used to wonderful effect. The title page shows Sarah in a blue dress set against a sepia city backdrop. Our eyes are focused on her, and we want to turn the page to see what she’s walking into. She’s all but eclipsed in the first courtroom scene, reminding us how young she is. The Brown v. Board of Education scene is particularly moving. Linda Brown in her rosy dress stands in front of a unified group of all-white justices in their black robes, the rosy backdrop echoing her dress. Stark, momentous, and effective.

What helps set this picture book biography above the rest is the end matter. Goodman includes a timeline of integration milestones and events with directions to the young reader to decide for themselves if a given event is a step forward or backward. Her notes on the following pages invite young readers into the research process, give more information to “our heroes” from the story, and offer a nice list of sources and resources (including some other good examples of well-written history!).

Recommended for use in classrooms, libraries, and at home as a terrific example of how to “do” history. It’s also a nice extension of Civil Rights studies and African American history. Recommended for grades 2-6.

Visit the The First Step website for more information.