Back of the Bus

by Aaron Reynolds (Author) Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

It seems like any other winter day in Montgomery, Alabama. Mama and child are riding where they're supposed to--way in the back of the bus. The boy passes the time by watching his marble roll up and down the aisle with the motion of the bus, until from way up front a big commotion breaks out. He can't see what's going on, but he can see the policeman arrive outside and he can see Mama's chin grow strong. "There you go, Rosa Parks," she says, "stirrin' up a nest of hornets. Tomorrow all this'll be forgot." But they both know differently.

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Kirkus Review - Children

The language is rhythmic and inflected with dropped gs, with slightly overdone description, but clearly explains to very young children Parks’s refusal to give up her seat at the front of the bus to a white man.


The boy “knows . . . she don’t belong up front like that, but then he realizes “maybe she does too.” The child’s innocent viewpoint personalizes the well-known historical event, while Cooper’s oil paintings, expertly rendered in his signature “subtractive” style, show the crowded bus as well as stunning portraits of Parks, the driver, the boy, and his mother as they decide that they are “not gonna hide no more.”

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review
This sterling collaboration views Rosa Parks's 1955 refusal to give up her bus seat through the eyes of a perceptive boy seated with his mother in the rear of the bus. Early on, the child rolls a treasured marble up the aisle and Parks good-naturedly shoots it back to him. He tucks the marble safely away when the bus fills with passengers and he senses trouble up front: Some folks look back, givin' us angry eyes. 'We do somethin' wrong, Mama?' I say all soft. Reynolds's ("Superhero School") lyrical yet forceful text conveys the narrator's apprehension and Parks's calm resolve, which inspires the boy. [S]he's sittin' right there, her eyes all fierce like a lightnin' storm, like maybe she does belong up there. And I start thinkin' maybe she does too. Cooper's ("Willie and the All-Stars") filmy oil paintings are characterized by a fine mistlike texture, which results in warm, lifelike portraits that convincingly evoke the era, the intense emotional pitch of this incident, and the everyday heroism it embodied. Ages 68. "(Jan.)" Copyright 2009 Publishers Weekly Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 2-4 Cooper's illustrations are the strongest aspect of this book, a fictional accounting of Parks's famous refusal to give up her seat, as told from the viewpoint of a little boy on the bus. Reynolds writes in free verse that is a tad overdone with Southern dialect, and the colloquialisms ("crammed like lima beans" and "sittin']like a turnip pile") are a stretch. Cooper's work, however, is powerful for its subtlety; he has incorporated the likenesses of a couple of high-profile civil rights activists in the crowd of passengers on the bus, symbolizing the continuum of mighty figures that began with the petite woman. One of the most powerful images is that of Parks by herself; Cooper has captured her resoluteness simply in the proud jut of her chin. Problematic styling aside, Reynolds does a satisfactory job of capturing a turning point in our nation's history from an anonymous but vital perspective. Coupled with Cooper's rich paintings, this is a noteworthy reflection on the actions of a single individual in turning the tide of segregation."

Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR" Copyright 2010 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Aaron Reynolds
Aaron Reynolds is the New York Times bestselling author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Here Comes Destructosaurus!, Carnivores, and the Caldecott Honor-winning book Creepy Carrots!. He regularly makes time to visit schools where his hilarious hands-on presentations keep kids spellbound. Aaron lives in Chicago with his wife, two kids, four cats, and anywhere between zero and ten goldfish, depending on the day. Visit Aaron at

Peter Brown is the author and illustrator of many bestselling children's books, including Children Make Terrible Pets, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, and The Curious Garden. He is also the author of the bestselling middle grade Wild Robot duology. He is the recipient of a Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots!, two E.B. White Read Aloud Awards, a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award, and a Children's Choice Book Award for Illustrator of the Year. Peter's website is
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Philomel Books
Publication date
January 20, 2010
BISAC categories
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV016150 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 20th Century
JUV039120 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Prejudice & Racism
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
Civil rights movements
Parks, Rosa
Segregation in transportation
Race relations
South Carolina Childrens, Junior and Young Adult Book Award
Nominee 2011 - 2012
Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award
Nominee 2012 - 2013
Alabama Camellia Award
Finalist 2012 - 2013

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