The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

first step

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial
Author: Susan E. Goodman
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Published January 5th, 2016 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: In 1847, a young African American girl named Sarah Roberts was attending a school in Boston. Then one day she was told she could never come back. She didn’t belong. The Otis School was for white children only.

Sarah deserved an equal education, and the Roberts family fought for change. They made history. Roberts v. City of Boston was the first case challenging our legal system to outlaw segregated schools. It was the first time an African American lawyer argued in a supreme court.

These first steps set in motion changes that ultimately led to equality under the law in the United States. Sarah’s cause was won when people–black and white–stood together and said, No more. Now, right now, it is time for change!

With gorgeous art from award-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis,The First Step is an inspiring look at the first lawsuit to demand desegregation–long before the American Civil Rights movement, even before the Civil War.

Backmatter includes: integration timeline, bios on key people in the book, list of resources, and author’s note.

My Review: I really appreciate the abundance of quality nonfiction books about the early civil rights in our country because I fear that so much of the prejudice still remains, so it is important to learn about history so hopefully it will not repeat itself. The First Step is a story that shows how even if you do not win your fight, that doesn’t mean that the effort you put forth was for naught. Sarah Roberts and her family were so brave in standing up for her education and rights, and their fight helped pave the way for the bumpy road of integration in schools. Goodman does a wonderful job starting with Sarah’s story but tying it to the Brown v. Board of Education trial while not taking away any credit from the Roberts’ part of history.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My first thought is to do a jigsaw type activity with The First Step and other civil rights nonfiction picture books (such as the ones listed below in recommended reading). Students can learn about different parts of the history of civil rights by reading the picture books and maybe even researching extra. They would then either present as a group to the class or you can jigsaw the kids back together (pull one person from picture book and put them together as a group), and they can each teach each other about what they learned. This is one of my favorite activities to do with picture books because it allows students to learn in depth about one subject then teach the rest of their class thus everyone learns about all subjects.

Discussion Questions: How did Sarah Roberts’s family’s fight lead to the integration of schools even though she did not win her case?; How did the author structure the book to go through the history of segregation?; How do the illustrations by Lewis help bring Goodman’s story to life?

We Flagged: 

first step spread

“Adeline and Benjamin Roberts tried to imagine Sarah’s walk to the Smith School, which was for African American children. She would have to zigzag through many streets, crossing one neighborhood after another.

Sarah would have to go all that way for a school that never taught subjects like history or drawing. All that way for Boston’s only school without a play yard. A school that owned only one book.”

Read This If You Loved: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhFreedom Summer (Kellee’s Review, Ricki’s Review) by Deborah Wiles, Seeds of Freedom by Hester Bass

Recommended For: 

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4 thoughts on “The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman”

  1. Celebrating failures is important, but an unlikely book topic! I’m so glad that someone had the vision to tell this ultimately inspiring story. It’s important for kids–for all of us!–to see that the path forward isn’t an unending string of easy successes.

  2. It’s an important book, and I’m so glad the story has been told. When I read it I had no idea of this early Boston history. Thanks for reminding me of the book, Kellee.

  3. I enjoyed this one too. Goodman tells some great nonfiction stories!
    I know this was a book we briefly talked about on our Mock Sibert site. I have not been on there in awhile. I need to go back and check it!

  4. I enjoyed this one too. It gives a look at Civil Rights from a different view. There aren’t as many books that address what was happening in the north.


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