The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles

The Story of Ruby Bridges


  • Author: Robert Coles Illustrator: George Ford
  • Publisher and date: Scholastic, 1995
  • Genres: biography
  • Age/Grade: 1-3

Author’s perspective: According to Scott London:

Coles describes himself variously as a doctor, child psychiatrist, oral historian, social anthropologist, teacher, friend, storyteller, busybody, and nuisance. Interviewers, journalists, and reviewers often seize on the apparent contradictions — he is a physician without a conventional practice who teaches college literature; a psychiatrist who rejects much of the language of his field; and a Harvard academic who spends much of his time volunteering in ghetto schools.

Coles was moved by the moral spirit and leadership of Ruby Bridges and other children (both black and white) who became friends during a turbulent era and ended up helping to change segregation laws. Dr. Coles spent 30 years studying Ruby Bridges and other children and wrote about it in various works. He writes as an insider due to his extensive research on the subject.

Literary Elements:

Style: The author provides accurate facts. I like how the illustrator emphasizes the size and youth of Ruby and the other girls through his use of perspective (pages 6, 10, and 14 are some examples). It is told as if a story, but filled with facts about Ruby starting at the school.

Tone: Although he worked so closely with Ruby Bridges, the book has a detached feel to it, not a lot of feeling, more of a retelling. You don’t get a lot of Ruby’s feelings and thoughts. There are reactions and thoughts from her teacher and family. I have found the lack of feeling from Ruby leaves the students wanting to read other books about Ruby in order to find out more information about her. It has an objective feel to it, even though Dr. Coles worked closely with Ruby.


This book tells the story of Ruby Bridges, a first grader who was also the first African American child to go to William Frantz Elementary School. The book shows Ruby’s brave and forgiving heart in spite of the cruel actions by the adults around her.

Curriculum Connections:

I love this book and this topic because the children in my class are in first grade. They love hearing about the brave girl who helped to change the world and was the same age as they are. I feel this empowers my class and shows them how change can happen without using fists. It shows them to stand up for what you believe is right. I read this book after reading several books about Martin Luther King, Jr. By the time we read this book, the students have had quite a bit of background knowledge about segregation and civil rights.

Some years, after reading this book, I have shown the movie: Disney’s Ruby Bridges. There are some scenes in the movie I feel I need to skip over because of the violent threats made against Ruby. By the time I show this movie, the students understand that this is about a true story. I still can’t watch this movie without crying.

Some questions during read aloud:

  • How do you think Ruby felt when she was told she had to go to a different school?
  • Why were the marshals brought in?
  • How do you think Ruby felt when she walked into the school for the first time?
  • Why did the grown ups act the way they did?
  • Would you be able to be as brave as Ruby? What would you have done if you were Ruby?

After reading, list words that describe Ruby Bridges.
Web Resources:


From Publishers Weekly
Ruby Bridges was the sole African American child to attend a New Orleans elementary school after court-ordered desegregation in 1960. Noted research psychiatrist Coles tells how federal marshals escorted the intrepid six-year-old past angry crowds of white protestors thronging the school. Parents of the white students kept them home, and so Ruby “began learning how to read and write in an empty classroom, an empty building.” Although there are disappointingly few words from Ruby herself, Coles’s use of quotes from her teacher adds to the story’s poignancy (”Sometimes I’d look at her and wonder how she did it…. How she went by those mobs and sat here all by herself and yet seemed so relaxed and comfortable”). The story has a rather abrupt ending; the concluding page reprints the prayer that Ruby said daily, asking God to forgive the protesters. Coles cursorily finishes the tale of Ruby’s unsettling year in an afterword (two boys and then the rest of the students returned to school; the mobs dispersed by the time Ruby entered second grade). Ford (Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; Paul Robeson) contributes affecting watercolors that play up Ruby’s moral courage. Ages 5-9.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Booklist
Ages 5-9. Sustained by family and faith, one brave six-year-old child found the strength to walk alone through howling protesters and enter a whites-only school in New Orleans in 1960. Ruby Bridges did it every day for weeks that turned into months. The white parents withdrew their kids, and Ruby sat alone with her teacher in an empty classroom in an empty building and learned her lessons. Harvard professor Cole has written powerful adult books about children in crisis and about children’s moral and political lives. Here he tells one girl’s heroic story, part of the history of ordinary people who have changed the world. He tells it quietly, as an adult, and the simplicity is moving, though kids might want some indication of Ruby’s personal experience, what it was like to be her. Ford’s moving watercolor paintings mixed with acrylic ink are predominantly in sepia shades of brown and red. They capture the physical warmth of Ruby’s family and community, the immense powers against her, and her shining inner strength. Hazel Rochman –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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