‘Busing Brewster’

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by Terri Schlichenmeyer
For New Pittsburgh Courier

For the last few days of school, you could hardly sit still.

All you could think about was the fun you’d have this summer, playing at the park and doing things with your friends. Your brain didn’t want anything to do with school. It only wanted to think about the summer months ahead and having a good time.

All summer long, Brewster looked forward to first grade and Franklin School. But in the new book “Busing Brewster” by Richard Michelson, pictures by R.G. Roth, he’s in for a big fall surprise.

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Every day, Brewster enjoyed playing in the Franklin School playground with his brother, Bryan. Franklin was where Brewster would be going in the fall, and he simply couldn’t wait. He hoped he didn’t have Miss Evelyn for a teacher; Bryan said she was really mean and she yelled all the time. Mama said Miss Evelyn was nice.

But one afternoon, when the boys got home, Mama was on the stoop, waving a letter that said Brewster and Bryan would be going to Central in the fall. Bryan wasn’t happy about that at all!

“Central’s the White school,” he said. “Ain’t no Negroes at Central.”

Mama said it was going to be okay. Central had rooms for art and music, and the roof didn’t leak. It even had a library and a swimming pool! By going to Central, Mama thought, maybe Brewster could be president someday. Brewster liked that.

He also liked the long bus ride to his new school, but his first day started out bad. There were folks holding up signs outside, and throwing rocks. Some people weren’t very nice at Central, but Brewster got to spend his whole first day in the library. Bryan called it “detention,” but Brewster didn’t mind. The librarian, Miss O’Grady, looked kind of like Miss Evelyn.

At home that night, Bryan ran off to the playground at Franklin, still a little mad about the new school. But Brewster paid him no attention, and he hugged Mama. Central looked like a great school, the perfect place to learn to be president.

Based loosely on several true-life events, “Busing Brewster” is a cute story that adults—particularly those of a Certain Age—will like. For children, though, I thought something was missing.

“Busing Brewster” is about the then-controversial issues of busing and school integration in the 1970s, but you wouldn’t know that until well into the story because neither narrative nor illustrations offer much of a clue. Grown-ups will understand the story’s meaning by the time they’re done reading, but without a lot of preamble or explanation, this book won’t make much sense to kids who probably don’t find it unusual to attend school with children of other races.

While I’ll admit that this is an important book, it’s probably not going to be your kids’ favorite. Still, if you give 4-7-year-olds a little explanation, “Busing Brewster” will get them to sit still for at least a little while.

(“Busing Brewster” by Richard Michelson, pictures by R.G. Roth c.2010, Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99/$21.99 Canada, 32 pages.)

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