Lizzie Demands a Seat, written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is the story of an African American school teacher who fought back against a New York City streetcar company when she was refused the right to ride. Whilst this is a little-known story compared to the famous Rosa Parks, it is just as compelling and I couldn’t help but get swept up in the drama of Lizzie’s story right from the outset.
Having recently visited America and the Black African Museum in Washington DC, I feel strongly that these stories need to be shared and remembered today. Whilst Lizzie’s ‘streetcar’ problem does not exist, racism is still prevalent throughout the world and those feelings of injustice endure. The wrongs of the past cannot be righted through literature of course, but books do act as a reminder of those injustices and help maintain a dialogue necessary to stop those situations rising again. This book is important! It carries with it a powerful social and moral message about equal rights and proves that through dialogue and a fair judicial system justice can win out. I would love to see this book in every public library and every school, not just in America but all over the world, teaching children (and their parents) that if you believe in something strongly enough then you will succeed, and that everyone has the right to fight for what is fair, just like Lizzie. This book is empowering not just because of its subject matter but also its use of language. Anderson manages to write a story that could appeal to both elementary readers as well as older students. She uses sophisticated language and doesn’t shy away from emotion. She leads us through Lizzies fight step by step giving us a sense that we are on Lizzies journey with her.
What I love as much as the writing in this book, are the illustrations, which are simply hypnotic. E.B. Lewis uses a combination of gentle washed water colours with tones of blues, pinks and browns to depict the memory of a bygone era. They really are beautiful. Lizzies skirt always cleverly stands out amongst the crowds and her background whenever visible, giving her an added presence and strength. Her expression is dignified and strong throughout, and without displaying anger Lewis shows her fierce determination to set things right. They also show her as a well-dressed and educated woman who respects the judicial process too. The back matter offers detailed notes and primary sources perfect for teachers to stretch the topic further and invite further investigation.
An inspiring Story!