The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation On Trial is a great picture book that is able to balance being informative about segregation issues while also being engaging with beautiful watercolor illustrations and relatable characters. The story gives us a glimpse into the untold struggles and strength of Sarah Roberts, who brought to court the first lawsuit about the injustice of segregation in schools in the United States. Sarah paved the way for the introduction of integration of schools and she influenced the later vital judgement of Brown vs. Board of Education. The picture book details the importance of pre Civil Rights fights for justice and equality and how steps backs can later lead to bigger steps forward in that fight. This picture book is an appropriate introduction to nonfiction for young readers because although all the events told are true, there is still a story-like element that appeals to young readers and the illustrations help to visualize what is going on.
The writing in this book does a great job of being detailed about the important events in court and in America while also fleshing out Sarah and her family as a relatable and courageous characters that the reader can root for. The text is integrated into the illustrations so that the reader is immersed in the setting of the story and is able to imagine what is being described, which is especially helpful for young readers as they keep track of the direction of the story. This picture book does an excellent job of using relevant vocabulary words in context, words such as “desegregation”, “justice”, and “trial”; with this book, children younger and older are able to have their questions asked about Civil Rights struggles but also frame their own questions based on these events and then go out and discover more based on their curiosity. The story is able to emphasize the historical importance of integration and specifically how Sarah Roberts changed things by being the “first”.
The illustrations in this picture book are beautiful watercolors that spread through both pages (with no gutters) and really convey the meaning of the text, which helps young readers with this nonfiction. The illustrations bring the characters to life by giving them expressions and duties. The illustrations also bring the different settings to life, so that children see what a courtroom may have looked like and they can better visualize what is going on as they read the text. The realism of the illustrations lend to the nonfiction nature of the book and how integration of the schools was a real battle for Sarah, her family, and many other African American families in the 1800s–the reader is better able to see the characters as real people because of the realism of the illustrations.
Overall, this picture book is a great story that introduces the pre Civil Rights battle of integration to young readers. It does a good job of being factual while also keep story-like elements and beautifully realistic illustrations that engage the reader and help orient them to the different settings and vocabulary used. The story can be used to pique the interest of readers in pre Civil Rights occurrences and the lives of African Americans during the time period and readers will be able to take the story from historical contexts and perhaps apply what they learned from the book into what is happening today.