Saturday, May 7, 2011

Goin' Someplace Special

Written By: Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Patricia C. McKissack bases her story, Goin’ Someplace Special, on the story of her own childhood.  She grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and although the setting of her picture book has been fictionalized, she brought it to life by incorporating real events from the time.  During the 1950s, segregation was prevalent and Jim Crow signs were posted on the doors of many different public places.  Throughout the story, ‘Tricia Ann saw numerous signs as she traveled to Someplace Special.  The very first sign she saw was when she got on the bus and walked to the back of the bus, sitting behind the sign that said, “COLORED SECTION.”  She then went to sit down on a park bench, but leaped to her feet when she realized there was a sign on the bench that said, “FOR WHITES ONLY.”  Later, she was accidentally swept into a fancy hotel lobby but when was noticed by the manager he said to her, “What makes you think you can come inside?  No colored people are allowed!”  Lastly, ‘Tricia Ann passed by the Grand Music Palace and was asked by a young boy if she was comin’ in.  The boy’s older sister responded, “Colored people can’t come in the front door.  They got to go round back and sit up in the Buzzard’s Roost.  Don’t you know nothing?” 

Just when it seems that ‘Tricia Ann will never arrive to someplace special, she finally makes it—she makes it to the doorway of freedom and reads the sign above the door, “PUBLIC LIBRARY: ALL ARE WELCOME.”  In her Author’s Note, McKissack writes about how in the late 1950s, Nashville’s public library board of directors quietly voted to integrate all of their facilities.  It was one of the few places where there were no Jim Crow signs and blacks were treated with some respect.  She continues to write that she did indeed make the walk to the library by herself just like ‘Tricia Ann and did face all kinds of racial bigotry and discrimination along the way. 

McKissack strongly develops ‘Tricia Ann in such a short time.  As ‘Tricia Ann embarks on her journey she is strong and feels great pride.  As she is constantly faced with discrimination, she begins to break and her strength seems to subside.  Many kind African American friends tell her things throughout her journey like, “Don’t let those signs steal yo’ happiness.”  She almost does let others steal her happiness, but she recalls her grandmother’s steady voice saying, “You are somebody, a human being—no better, no worse than anybody else in this world.  Gettin’ someplace special is not an easy route.  But don’t study on quittin’, just keep walking straight ahead—and you’ll make it.”  Through these words, ‘Tricia Ann musters up the courage to continue on her journey and to not let others take her happiness away.

Jerry Pickney’s beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations that accompany the text engage readers and make them feel a part of the story.  His illustrations are full-bleed, allowing us to feel the same emotions as ‘Tricia Ann.  He uses bright colors of turquoise, yellow, and red for ‘Tricia Ann’s outfit—making her standout from the crowd.  The remaining scenery and people are illustrated in more muted colors—almost decreasing their significance to ‘Tricia Ann—like she is keeping her eyes straight ahead with the library as her goal.  His illustrations are a combination of representational and impressionistic in style—objects and people in the foreground are drawn accurately; but he emphasizes light, movement and color over detail in the background.

Through this story, we are given a glimpse into racial segregation and how it affected day-to-day life for African Americans.  It reminds us of how far we have come since the 1950s, which was not too long ago.

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