Book Nook: Grandmama’s Pride

Pride: A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.*

I’ll admit that when I first saw the title, I immediately thought of the definition of pride which we all try to steer our children away from: an excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit. The picture on the cover of the book also only led me to think more that the words on the pages were going to be a story about a prideful old woman. Despite that, my interest was peaked enough to look further and I am glad that I did. From experience, I’ve learned that you never get to know the real story unless you look beyond the cover and turn the pages of a book.

Grandma’s Pride takes us back to 1956 during a time of segregation and Jim Crow laws that reigned in the southern states of America. Sarah Marie and her little sister along with their mother travel from their home up north to spend the summer, as they do every year, with Grandmama who lives in the south. For the girls, the trip is full of adventure and fun while riding in the back of the bus in the “best seats” says their mother because they are wide and roomy, and closer to the bathroom. This trip also holds a little more excitement than usual for Sarah Marie because her Aunt Maria will be teaching her to read.

During the long journey, the bus pulls into a rest stop for the passengers to stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat at the store lunch counter. Instead of joining the other passengers at the lunch counter, Sarah Marie and her sister remain on the bus and eat the delicious lunch their mother specially packed for them all to enjoy. After lunch, the bus continues to its destination and eventually arrives where they are greeted by Grandmama and Aunt Maria who are excitedly waiting for them at the bus depot in town. Sarah Maria notices that there are no seats in the waiting room where Grandmama and Aunt Maria are waiting, but quickly dismisses it because of her excitement at seeing them both.

The summer is full of good food cooked by Grandmama, playing in the garden, writing letters to their father, reading lessons for Sarah Marie, and many trips walking to town because Grandmama does not ride the bus. Sarah Marie dismisses that as just one of Grandmama’s “peculiar ways.” One day while in town, Grandmama cautions them about drinking out of the public water fountain because, “You don’t know who’s been drinking there,” and suggests that the girls wait until they get home to enjoy some of her “lemon-mint tea from fresh-squeezed lemons with spearmint out of her garden.”

As the summer progresses, Sarah Marie learns how to read and starts taking in all of her surroundings and enjoying her new ability. With the excitement of being able to read also comes a sadness as she becomes aware of truths that have always been present and ones her mother and Grandmama have been protecting her and her sister from for many years.

Becky Birtha has written a wonderful story that shows a little girl coming into awareness of the times in which she lives. Although the period was full of a lot of hate, there was also a lot of love that so many people gave and experienced and continues to trump racial division even today. There is a moment in the story when you see how Sarah Marie has learned more than how to read but also has learned a sense of compassion, when she cautions her little sister.

The illustrations in the book are also well done by Colin Bootman and are a nice compliment to a good story that reminds one of or introduces one to how it used to be during segregation.

Now when I look at the cover of the book, I see a woman who knows her value as a human being and one who stands for the dignity and equal rights and respect for all people and not just for herself.

*American Heritage Dictionary

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