Ruby Lee and Me

Age Range
Release Date
January 05, 2016
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Everything's changing for Sarah Beth Willis. After Robin's tragic accident, everyone seems different somehow. Days on the farm aren't the same, and the simple fun of riding a bike or playing outside can be scary. And there's talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly--Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She's the first African American teacher. It's 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can't she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn't for anybody who wants to learn--or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

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1 review
The South in the 1970s
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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When Sarah's younger sister is hit by a car when Sarah is reading a library book instead of watching her, Robin ends up in the hospital, and Sarah feels guilty. It doesn't help that her family, hard hit by the hospital bills, moves from their small Southern town out to the country to be near grandparents. Sarah loves being in the country but misses her room, and is worried about starting a new school. Her friend Ruby Lee will also attend the school, but since she is black, Ruby Lee doesn't think that the two can be "school friends". Sarah feels odd about the whole thing-- she's friends with Ruby Lee, but sees that Ruby Lee's mother and her grandmother have a different kind of relationship, one where the grandmother is always in charge. The community struggles with the school integration as well, and Sarah must figure out a way to deal with her grief about her sister's hospitalization as well as the changes in her relationship with Ruby.
Good Points
This is set in 1969, and I had no idea that schools in the South were still not integrated at that point. In Ohio, there was a lot of busing in Cleveland in the late 1970s, but that was because neighborhoods were uneven, not because black children were not allowed to go to certain schools. In fact, there was a black child in my father's kindergarten class in 1940 in Akron, so this surprised me. The author based many of the characters and the setting on people and places that she knew well.

I wasn't sure at first when this book took place, because I didn't know about the state of Civil Rights in the South in the 1970s. This was very informative. I was glad the author mentioned the "inaccuracy" involving the broadcast dates of All My Children, because I did catch that! Readers will enjoy the period details about food, etc., and the cover was changed to get the fashions of the time right.

Readers of One Crazy Summer and other books set in the 1960s and 1970s will love this strong story of friendship and family.
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