Reviewed by Mechele R. Dillard for TeensReadToo.com
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States made a historic ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education: Segregation of public schools was declared unconstitutional. And, like so many others, the life of twelve-year-old Rosemary Patterson was forever changed.
Rosemary doesn't really care for the idea of her school being closed just because of the decision. "If white people want to go to school with us so much, seems to me all they needed to do was ask. We'd make room for a few white kids at Attucks Elementary next year," she tells her mother. "Why did it take the Supreme Court to figure that out?" (p. 2). As was the case for many children of the time, Rosemary doesn't quite understand the significance of the ruling. Having grown up under the oppressive lie of "separate but equal," she just doesn't realize how wrong the system is, or how it actually affects her life. But, her mother promises, "Next year, when you are in a better school, you'll come to appreciate why this decision is so important" (p. 2).
As Rosemary goes through her classes at Robertson Elementary--the only "colored" student in the sixth grade after her best friend, J. J., is diagnosed with polio--she learns about hatred. She learns about intolerance. But she also learns about friendship. And she learns that sometimes people really can change. Things seem too much to handle in the beginning, but the local storekeeper, Mr. Bob, encourages her to keep her chin up: "You are a pioneer in the real sense of the word, Rosemary. Whenever you are the first, you are going to have it hard" (71).
This book, while fiction, is based on McKissack's own experience as a young girl in 1954 Missouri, facing her sixth-grade class as the only African-American student. Students today of every ethnic background will find the details fascinating, and will wonder, just as Rosemary did, "Why did it take the Supreme Court to figure that out?" (p. 2). And while it is a sign of success that children today cannot truly comprehend a society segregated by race, it is important that the struggles of those who led the fight--by choice or by circumstance--never be forgotten, as the fight for equality in the United States is still raging. A FRIENDSHIP FOR TODAY is an excellent example of courage and spirit for all children--and adults--to read, understand, admire, and, hopefully, carry forward.