In this final story in a trilogy of picture books about author Michael Bandy’s experience growing up in the Jim Crow era—the others are White Water and Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box—young readers encounter excited Michael as he embarks on a much-anticipated train ride from Alabama to Ohio with his grandmother to visit his cousins. Because they live in the segregated South, Michael and Grandma are told to sit in the “colored only” train car. While Grandma sleeps, Michael wants to explore the train and meet the boy he saw on the platform when he embarked. But Michael isn’t allowed in the other boy’s train car because it’s for whites only.
Michael is surprised when the train pulls into the station in Atlanta, Ga., and the conductor removes the sign that states “COLORED ONLY.” Suddenly, the boy Michael saw earlier runs up to him, and the twosome romp from train car to train car. Bobby Ray and Michael play together and draw pictures, enjoying their newfound friendship.
But suddenly everything changes. As the train enters the station in Chattanooga, Tenn., the “WHITES ONLY” sign is put up again in Bobby Ray’s train car. Before the boys are separated, Bobby Ray hands Michael a rolled-up sheet of paper with a drawing he made. Michael thinks about what has just happened: “Seemed like the rules on that train were always changing. It just didn’t make sense at all.” When the train finally arrives at the station in Cincinnati, Ohio, the signs are taken down once again. Michael looks at the drawing his friend Bobby Ray gave him and sees “white folk sitting next to black folk in the same train car. Of all the surprising new things I had seen on my journey, that was the most wonderful.”
Artist James E. Ransome’s larger-than-life watercolor and collage illustrations capture the magnitude of Michael’s experience, both as he encounters landscapes he’s never seen before and as he is finally allowed to cross a racial divide and make an unexpected friend in a time when “conflicting policies” in regard to race were adjusted according to the policies of local jurisdictions. (Candlewick)