Review of Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation
by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein; illus. by James E. Ransome
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-7636-9650-4    $17.99

In this picture book set in the 1960s (and inspired by the author’s childhood memories), Michael and his granddaddy are fascinated by the powerful trains that rush by their Alabama farm going North. Michael’s dream to ride one comes true when his grandma takes him to Ohio to visit relatives. As they board the train, they are directed to the “colored only” section (“no whites allowed”). When the train departs Atlanta, the conductor removes the sign, and a boy Michael had seen in the station comes running up to him from the white section. Michael and Bobby Ray begin exploring the train, racing through the cars, and finally return to Bobby Ray’s car, where they talk and play until the train reaches Chattanooga. The sign returns and the conductor leads Michael back to his seat as he laments, “Seemed like the rules on [that] train were always changing. It just didn’t make any sense at all.” When the train arrives in Cincinnati, Michael’s destination, the sign comes down again, and the new friends are able to say goodbye. In his signature watercolor style with collage, Ransome perfectly delivers the wonderment of a boy’s first train ride with beautifully rendered picturesque landscapes, and sensitively captures the innocence of children whose friendship defies the unjust laws of segregation. The author’s note provides brief context for the story, beginning with the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act that regulated railway transportation across state lines.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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