White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman and illustrated by Tyrone Geter
Subtle and stirring, this tale-within-a-tale begins with an affectionate exchange between an African American girl and her grandmother, then telescopes to encompass an electrifying moment fraught with personal and political significance. Grandma tells of sneaking off to town one sizzling summer day when she was a child, “planning on doing no good.” Approaching a water fountain, the thirsty girl mistakes its “Whites Only” sign to mean that she should take off her shoes so that only her white socks will touch the step stool. A “big white man” grabs her and removes his belt to whip her-prompting African American bystanders to remove their shoes, too, and defiantly drink from the fountain. At home, the narrator’s mother proclaims she can now go to town by herself, ” ‘cause you’re old enough to do some good”; in town, “the ‘Whites Only’ sign was gone from that water fountain forever.” Though Coleman (The Footwarmer and the Black Crow) complicates the story with some unnecessary subplots, the impact is strong. Geter’s (Dawn and the Round-to-it) full- and double-page paintings can be hazy, but they conduct the story’s considerable emotional charge. Ages 5-9.