Author Rhonda Lynn Rucker’s latest picture book, Make a Change, is an excellent addition to that time in American and African American history when everyone – even children, had to stand up for their rights.
The book opens with a fidgety young African American boy who is shopping for school clothes with his mother. Then he catches a whiff of fresh golden-brown french fries being prepared at the lunch counter located in the basement of Rich’s Department Store. He can’t wait to sink his teeth into those delicious fries.
Unfortunately, Rich’s Department Store has a policy. The store is more than happy to accept money from African Americans to buy food at lunch time, but this happiness stops short of allowing them to sit and eat the food. The boy takes a seat anyway – not in defiance, but because he wants to sit down. That’s when an old grandpa-of-a-man rises off his stool and tells the boy and his mother that the lunch counter isn’t for people like them.
The young boy struggles to understand why African Americans are treated this way, and although he never fully processes the deeper reasons why, he is more than happy to do his part to help bring about a change. This “part” is to participate in a pray-in; to get down on his knees with other people who are protesting for the cause and pray to encourage other shoppers not to buy from the store.
This book is both sweet and somber. It explores the innocence of childhood and the cruelty of discrimination through the eyes of a young child who just wants to be treated like everyone else. The prose is honest and quite realistic, especially when the young boy describes his fear when he attends his very first sit in and he is approached by a young white man.
Artist Brock Nicol’s dark and rich illustrations expertly capture the sights, sounds and mindset of life in the 1960’s. Older readers will take one look at the store and street scenes and feel that they have been whisked backward in time to the Jim Crow era, and younger readers will experience first-hand the young boy’s confusion, uncertainty — and finally, hope, that things will get better.
Use this book as a supplemental text for African American or American history. It can also be used to jumpstart a discussion about tolerance, acceptance, citizenship, and human rights.