Monday, May 21, 2007

A Friendship for Today

A Friendship for Today, by Patricia C. McKissack, is the story of sixth grader Rosemary Patterson. Set in 1954, Supreme Court ruled school desegregation has arrived and soon the "colored schools" will be closed and students will be sent to the "white schools." McKissack sets the tone of this book early on when Rosemary comments to her mother:

"If white people want to go to school with us so much, seems to me all they needed to do was ask. We'd make room for a few white kids at Attucks Elementary next year. Why did it take the Supreme Court to figure that out?" (p. 2)

What follows is a unique and poignant coming of age story that discusses not only racial tolerance in a way that will be easily understood by any reader. Assigned to a predominantly white school, Rosemary and her best friend J.J. prepare to enter school together. After J.J. is diagnosed with polio, Rosemary and her "white trash" archenemy Grace learn together that being judged by color is not any better than being judged for being poor.

One of the most interesting scenes in A Friendship for Today occurs after a particulary jarring episode where the most popular girl accuses Rosemary of stealing her sweater. The teacher, Mrs. Denapolis, provides a moving lesson in tolerance separating the blue-eyed and green-eyed students from the rest of the class during lunch. When asked why, she responds,

"Because somebody told me that blue-eyed people are thieves and green-eyed people are liars, so I don't want those kinds of students around my other students." (p. 81)

However, this book is not just about racial issues and prejudice. It deals with Rosemary's family, her parents marriage is in trouble, her best friends health, J.J. has polio, and culture of 1954 in the south. Children will start this novel for the story and come away learning about tolerance and understanding.

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