In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday today, my sons and I read Riding to Washington, a 2008 historical fiction book by Gwenyth Swain and illustrated by David Geister. I picked up this book from my oldest son’s school library for two specific reasons: my youngest son is preparing a media festival project about the March on Washington, so I thought this book would provide a glimpse of the day’s events through a child’s lenses. Second, I admire Dr. King and his accomplishments, so I figured it would be an enjoyable read for me as well.
My sons and I read and discussed the book together, and it was not only enjoyable to read, but it also provided us a glimpse of why the march and the entire civil rights movement was necessary. The book’s focus is on Janie, a young white girl from Indiana, and her bus ride with her father and “coloreds” to Washington, D.C to see Dr. King speak. We see Janie experience the unfairness of segregation on two occasions while on the bus ride, and these experiences cause her to become more unified with the colored people whom she never interacted with in her white-only community.
Riding to Washington captures the essence of the attendees’ desire for a fair, integrated society. The illustrations are beautifully painted with care and detail from the paintings of Janie, her parents, and the colored people on the bus, to the large crowd scene in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I recommend elementary-aged children to read this book with their parents to join Janie on her life-changing journey on August 28, 1963.