2/2/2011 ** This past weekend, I had the opportunity to hear Andrea & Brian Pinkney, a husband/wife team, talk about their book projects.
Sit-In is about the lunch-counter sit-in movement that started exactly 51 years ago on 2/1/1960 in Greensboro, NC. The author, Andrea Pinkney, has chosen two metaphors to illustrate the concepts of segregation and integration. First, building on the students' order of "a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side" she alludes to the law's recipe for segregation: "Do not combine white people with black people," calling segregation a "bitter brew." Later, she says the students used the time at the counter to study for tests and that if "black people and white people could break bread together, everyone would pass the test."
The visual design provides a strong complement to the text. I was fascinated to hear Andrea deconstruct the artwork - she said that the way Brian portrayed the lunch counter in his images allowed it to become another character in the book. For example, on one page, the counter was shown from two different angles so that it seemed to cave-in on itself in the gutter of the book. This symbolism represented the way that segregation was caving in.
On later pages, the lunch counter becomes a road with ups and downs, showing the series of successes and failures that the civil rights workers experienced. Finally, the lunch counter is shown as a track similar to that of a roller coaster, symbolic of the out-of-control twists that one can encounter when on a frightening journey. Every time I hear someone do a visual analysis of art, I'm impressed at the layers of meaning that the images add to the story.
The poetic prose, extended metaphors in the text, symbolic nature of the images, and the use of multiple fonts and colors all combine to create a richly textured narrative about an important aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. This is definitely a picture book for many ages. Children in the early elementary grades will be moved to discuss the ways that teens try to help others. Children & youth in later grades can use this text as a jumping-off point to explore the many incidents in the civil rights movement.