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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In 1954, Rosemary Patterson is about to enter sixth grade. Mama, Daddy and the other adults she knows are thrilled that she'll be one of the first black children to attend a previously all-white school. Rosemary isn't quite so excited. She loves her African-American friends and teachers, and she doesn't see the need for integration. At least she knows her best friend, J.J., will be with her. Then J.J. suddenly gets polio, becomes paralyzed from the waist down and leaves town for a lengthy treatment of hydrotherapy.

Even before school starts, Rosemary faces obstacles. A prejudiced teacher at her new school tries to transfer her to remedial classes, despite her excellent grades. Rosemary finds herself in class with Grace Hamilton, who, along with her four brothers and sisters, has bullied Rosemary and J.J. since the Hamiltons' move from Arkansas. Rosemary also struggles as she watches her parents' constant fighting. Daddy comes home less and less in the evenings, and Rosemary suspects he's having an affair with a woman at work.

Rosemary discovers that her new principal and classroom teacher believe in racial equality. They're kind and thoughtful and make tolerance their word for the year. Rosemary's teacher even does classroom exercises that help the other children see how it feels to be excluded. Rosemary finds a nearly dead cat beside the railroad tracks. Even though Daddy suggests she let it die, she names it Rags and nurses it back to health. In her letters to J.J., she talks about Rags being a fighter and urges him to be one, too.

Another bully, Katherine, makes Rosemary's life difficult. Katherine also taunts Grace Hamilton, calling her poor white trash. Katherine's bullying drives Rosemary and Grace into a surprising friendship, one that forces Grace to stand up to her family and their prejudices. As the school year progresses, Rosemary excels in her classes and makes more friends. She follows the advice of trusted adults and rises above the hatred she encounters. Her kindness and character help many of her fellow students and their parents see the benefits of integration.

Rosemary's parents divorce, and Daddy's girlfriend eventually leaves him. He tries to get Mama back, but she refuses. She says she doesn't hate him, and neither should Rosemary. Hate cripples the way polio crippled J.J., Mama says. But she believes she and Daddy are different people than when they got married, so they should no longer be together.

As the school year ends, Rosemary and her friends attend an orchestra concert from which blacks were formerly prohibited. Rosemary dresses up and enjoys the evening with her white and black friends. Grace is allowed to wear a beautiful dress Mama made. Rags, the once-helpless cat, gives birth to three kittens. Rosemary is sad to learn Grace's family is moving back to Arkansas. She gives her friend one of the kittens to remember her by.

Rosemary is delighted when J.J. returns to town. He wears leg braces and uses crutches, but because of her encouragement, he is no longer in a wheel chair. She assures him the two of them will be racing each other again in no time. She says that while she and Grace had a friendship for today, her friendship with J.J. is forever.

Christian Beliefs

When Mama learns about school integration, she exclaims, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." Rosemary attends the Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Mama sings in the choir. Mr. Bob, the grocery store owner, teaches Rosemary's Sunday school class. She says he tells wonderful stories about David, Solomon and Daniel, but he also talks about inspiring people of color. He assures Rosemary that the community is praying for J.J.'s recovery. Rosemary attends church camp in the Ozark Mountains. The children recite the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm at school as part of their morning activities. When Mama finds out one of their black friends gets to perform with the St. Louis Orchestra, Rosemary says her mother sang and sent up praises like she's in the middle of a church service.

Other Belief Systems

In this turbulent historical period, the white characters are in various stages of acceptance concerning integration. Some, such as Grace's father, hate the idea of equality for black Americans. Others, such as a teacher Rosemary meets at her new school, believe blacks are ignorant and need to be in remedial classes to catch up. Still others, such as Rosemary's teacher and principal, demonstrate kindness to both races by promoting tolerance.

Authority Roles

Rosemary's parents fight frequently. Her father is having an affair with a woman at work, and he often doesn't come home at night. Mama is passionate about integration and refuses when a teacher asks to send Rosemary to a remedial school. Mr. Bob is a trusted adult and Sunday school teacher who praises Rosemary for being an integration pioneer. He urges her to make kind, generous choices despite what others do. Grace's parents both harbor racial prejudice. Grace's alcoholic father beats her and causes a scene about integration at parents' night. Grace's mother, having been aided by Rosemary's mama during a sudden illness, makes an effort to diminish her own prejudice. Rosemary's white teacher and principal teach the importance of equality.


The Lord's name in vain appears once. Katherine and her friends call Rosemary the n-word. Rosemary rescues a bloody, dying cat that's been hit by a train. The cat flops around, and its ear is partially ripped off.


Rosemary's daddy is having an affair. No details are given, except that he comes home less and less often and is running around with a woman from work. Rosemary learns that an older girl from church is pregnant and getting married the following Sunday.

Mama divorces Daddy after he's had an affair. But she claims the affair isn't really the reason she's divorcing him. She's become a more empowered woman since they married, and he stifles her in that area. She says they've grown apart and they're different people than they were when they married; their differences make it impossible for them to stay together. It is time for her to move on.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Grace's father comes to parents' night slurring his words and smelling like liquor.

Bullying: The five Hamilton kids frequently use racial slurs and are insulting and pick fights with J.J. and Rosemary. Rosemary says they're so mean, they taught the Wicked Witch of the East how to be ornery. She thinks battling the KKK, Al Capone and the whole Chicago mob couldn't be any worse than facing the Hamiltons. Katherine, a bully at school, tries to pit Rosemary and Grace Hamilton against one another. She tells Rosemary she can be part of their group if she calls Grace poor white trash. When Rosemary refuses, Katherine promises Grace entry into her inner circle if she'll use a racial slur against Rosemary. Both Grace and Rosemary refuse to do Katherine's bidding. Katherine and her group also stuff a smaller girl into a bathroom trash can.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 10


Patricia McKissack






Record Label



Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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