Booklist Reviews

When her best friend contracts polio, sixth-grader Rosemary Patterson becomes the only black child in her newly integrated classroom. There, she forms an uneasy bond with Grace Hamilton, whose poverty leaves her as vulnerable to jeers as Rosemary's dark skin: "Arkansas trash, and a porch monkey. . . . What next?" Closely modeling Rosemary's story on her own experiences during the 1954-55 school year, McKissack represents the full spectrum of responses to desegregation--from the kind teacher who teaches tolerance to the bigoted principal who insensitively awards a coupon to a whites-only restaurant as Rosemary's spelling-bee prize. The friendship between Rosemary and Grace never gains the prominence suggested by the title and cover image, and the novel's quiet, episodic structure will deter some readers. But McKissack's insights into "the two steps forward . . . one giant step back" nature of the civil rights struggle are valuable, whether children encounter them on their own or in a classroom, where the novel will poignantly extend character education and history curricula. ((Reviewed February 1, 2007)) Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

In 1955, Rosemary is the lone black child in her classroom, and her voice rings with excitement and anxiety. Racist Grace is in her class, but when the sixth-grade queen bee tries to humiliate them, Grace and Rosemary become friends. McKissack's secondary characters are complex, conflicted and imperfect but full of wisdom. As Rosemary's mother says, "It's the little victories that win the war." Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

It's 1955 suburban St. Louis, and the fifth graders at Attucks Elementary are saying goodbye to their beloved teacher and to their school, too: it is being closed in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision ending segregation. In the fall, Rosemary is the lone black child in her classroom, and her believably sixth-grade voice rings with confusion, excitement, and anxiety. Making friends is a challenge, with her best friend J.J. stricken with polio and with the horrible Grace Hamilton in her class (the Hamiltons have moved from Arkansas, and their attitudes toward integration are straight out of the nineteenth century). Katherine, the queen bee of the sixth grade, seems intent on making Rosemary's life difficult, and when she tries to use her influence to humiliate Rosemary and Grace, the two girls become unlikely friends. McKissack's secondary characters, from Mr. Bob at the grocery store to Rosemary's divorcing parents to the stubbornly courageous Mrs. Hamilton, are complex creations, conflicted and imperfect but full of wisdom as they grope their way along life's road. As Rosemary's mother tells her, "It's the little victories that win the war." Claudia Mills Being Teddy Roosevelt; illus. by R. W. Alley Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

The title may lead readers to expect a contemporary tale; instead, McKissack chronicles the events of 1954 and 1955, a tumultuous time in the life of 12-year-old Rosemary Patterson. After a care-free summer, Rosemary begins sixth grade in an integrated school, one of only a few African-American students. At home she copes with the disintegration of her parents' marriage and nurses an injured cat back to life. Using first-person narration, McKissack creates a convincing portrait of a young girl's experiences. Young readers may find Rosemary's narration stilted at times, but McKissack's style clearly evokes the more formal world of the 1950s. Ironically, the friendship referred to in the title is the least interesting aspect of the narrative. Rosemary is such a strong character that readers won't be surprised when previously prejudiced Grace Hamilton recognizes her worth. This simply told story will leave readers pondering our progress—or lack thereof—in race relations over the past 50 years. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Media Connection

Patricia McKissack writes a heart-warming story of friendship during a difficult time in our history. Rosemary is a twelve-year-old African-American girl growing up in the fifties and entering an all-white school. She faces discrimination, the absence of her best friend, and parents on the verge of a divorce. During this year she gains an unlikely friend, Grace, a white girl from a racist family. Rosemary faces many adversities but overcomes them with courage and determination. McKissack bases this story on her own life as a young girl facing school desegregation. The realistic characters draw the reader into their world. Students will like the friendships that develop and change throughout the book. Some of the problems Rosemary faces are the same as those preteens face today. She wants to grow up quickly, her parents are constantly arguing, and she is separated from her best friend because of an illness. Yet, the prejudice she faces will raise awareness of this issue, which some readers may have little experience with. McKissack's book is a fantastic choice for any upper elementary or middle school library. Recommended. Cindy Walker, Librarian, Moore Elementary School, Houston, Texas © 2007 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

McKissack (Porch Lies) reaches into her own childhood to shape this immediate and affecting novel narrated by strong and smart Rosemary. She enters sixth grade in 1954, just after her Missouri town acts upon the Supreme Court school desegregation decision and closes the "colored school" the girl has attended. Since her best friend, J.J., contracts polio just before school starts, Rosemary is the only black child in her class at her new school. Her first day, she wears a pink dress with lace, while the other kids have on pants and tennis shoes ("She looks like one of those dressed-up monkeys they have at the zoo," a classmate says). And her assigned seat is right next to Grace, her neighborhood nemesis, who comes from a racist family ("They hate colored people and don't mind telling us"). The graceful narrative splices together several survival stories, as Rosemary copes with her peers' prejudice and her parents' disintegrating marriage, and J.J. endures grueling polio treatments. One of the tale's most poignant threads is the evolving friendship between Rosemary and Grace; in an especially incisive passage, after Grace confides that her abusive father believes white people are superior, Rosemary asks, "You know better, don't you?" to which Grace answers "Now I do." Rosemary replies, "That's what counts with me." A real, at times raw tale about a winning and insightful young heroine during a bittersweet era. Ages 9-12. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 5–8— McKissack dishes up a palatable blend of fact and fiction in her semiautobiographical story of Rosemary Patterson's pivotal sixth-grade year (1954–'55). The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision closed the doors of Rosemary's colored school in Kirkland, MO, and dispersed students into two white elementary schools. Determined to prove she does not need remediation, Rosemary excels academically and refuses to be racially intimidated or stereotyped. An unlikely friendship with mean Grace Hamilton, labeled "white trash" by snobby classmates, opens Rosemary's eyes to shared experiences of prejudice, parental strife, peer pressure, and loneliness. Both girls develop a mutual respect for the hardships they face. Rosemary gets emotional support and comfort from storekeeper Mr. Bob, an ex-Tuskegee Airman; her independent, enterprising seamstress mother; her fair-minded and compassionate teacher; and Rags, a rescued, injured cat that finally emits a "meow." As her parents grapple with marital problems and her polio-stricken best friend, J.J., struggles to walk again, Rosemary learns the value of tolerance and perseverance. A wealth of historical references, from civil rights to polio vaccine to early TV, is embedded in the narrative. Readers will enjoy the protagonist's spunky, resilient response to adversity and her candid, often amusing observations of human nature.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

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