A Friendship for Today
by Patricia McKissack
Bright student, dreamer and the fastest runner in her grade, Rosemary Patterson finds her life in upheaval when the Supreme Court rules that school segregation is unconstitutional. Rosemary and her best friend J.J. plan to attend Robertson elementary school. Over the summer, though, J.J. is stricken with polio and Rosemary is thrust into a new situation that she thinks she has to tackle on her own. Luckily, she has the support of kind store owner Mr. Bob who is a former Tuskegee airman; her no-nonsense, driven mother; a fair-minded, caring teacher and a timid, injured cat named Mr. Rags. Through the novel, Rosemary experiences a lot of change and upheaval but through it, she truly learns the value of friendship and grows in her understanding of who she is and what she holds dear.
What struck me about this novel was how deftly McKissack wove different elements and events together into a seamless, meaningful and touching story. This novel would best be compared to an onion—it has multiple layers that the careful reader could peel back and discuss and length. Oh how I love novels that lend themselves to great discussion! For one layer, you have the demise of Rosemary’s parents’ marriage and the underlying issues that have caused the fissure. For another layer, you have characters challenging long-held prejudices and learning that people can change. Another layer could be the issue of friendship and relationships. How do they change? How can they change us?
For teachers, I could definitely see pairing this book with Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis to flesh out the discussions of prejudice, race and civil rights. I could also seeing pairing it with A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin to expand on the ideas of relationships, acceptance, change and friendship.
Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend it to middle grade readers. The characters are authentic, engaging and realistic. I loved the dynamic between Rosemary and her new friend, Grace the Tasteless. Both were really well developed and I could imagine myself being friends with Rosemary in real life. She was the right mix of sassy and spunky. The dialogue between them came alive off of the page. I also enjoyed how this book included references to historical happenings and figures like Wilma Rudolph which lent a historical realism to the novel without losing readers who did not have a lot of background knowledge. A solid novel from McKissack!
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Recommendation: 9-12