It’s always been a dream of Michael’s to ride on a train, so when he learns that he and his grandmother will be traveling on one to visit family in Ohio, he’s excited about his new adventure. When they board in Atlanta, the conductor makes them sit in a “colored only” section. But as they leave the city, they’re allowed to explore the rest of the train until Chattanooga. Then the signs go up again and Michael and his grandmother are forced to sit separately from the white passengers for the rest of the trip.
Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation (Candlewick) by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein walks readers through a time in America during the early 1960s when segregation laws were different from state to state. The story is based on Bandy’s own experiences riding the train as a child during this era, making the story even more compelling.
As you ride along with Michael and his grandmother, the sights and sounds described inside and outside the train make you feel as if you’re traveling right alongside them through the cities and countryside. And when the “colored only, no whites allowed” sign goes up, you can feel Michael’s reaction through the illustrations and questions he has for his grandmother about why people view him differently.
We see the events unfold through Michael’s eyes and he realizes some people view him differently because of the color of his skin. And the beautiful illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award Winner James E. Ransome complement the storytelling, drawing the reader in with their colors and lifelike depictions.
Not only is this an important story about a sensitive and crucial point in American history, but it also focuses on friendship. When Michael is allowed to explore the train, he meets a friend. They may not share the same skin color, but the two find out they have so many things in common, right down to similar scars from playing outside. Their friendship is a great testament to the hope that can be found even in some dark times. Children will relate to the unfairness of segregation when the boys are separated at Chattanooga into their respective cars.
Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation is a perfect picture book for older elementary school children to help them understand and talk about unjust laws and the impact racism had on younger children of color during the 1960s. Teachers and parents will find it an excellent resource for talking to their children and students about a difficult time in America’s history and how it connects to the present day.
All Aboard the “Overground Railroad” to a Better Life
9 Kids’ Audiobooks About Race and Justice