OPENING THE ROAD is the true story behind the Green Book guide Black Americans used to travel safely during legal segregation…and the mail carrier who wrote it.
Today author Keila Dawson is here to talk about how the 2017 Storystorm challenge inspired this story. Congratulations and take it away, Keila!
After reading a 2017 Storystorm post by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Social Media Inspires Social Awareness, I heard an interesting story about the Green Book travel guides on a different type of media—the radio. The broadcast was an interview with the creator of a BBC documentary on the Green Book. I learned it was written and published in the 1930s during a time when finding places to eat, sleep, or get gas on road trips wasn’t easy or safe for Black Americans. I had always wanted to write a narrative nonfiction story and thought there was an audience for this story about the man and the book that changed lives for so many people.
Keila, how did your initial idea grow and change?
I followed the links provided by the broadcast host to learn more about the guide and fell down a research rabbit hole!
From a quick search, I found one other title published about the topic, a fiction picture book, and gave myself permission to dedicate the time to dig deeper. Filling in the gaps of my own personal knowledge of the history during that period made me even more determined to write this story.
My first draft read like a Wikipedia page with lots of dates and facts. There was very little public information available on Victor Green, the mail carrier who published the guides, but they were in the public domain. I read the introductions he wrote and articles he published in every guide. I learned he got the idea from the Jewish press.
I connected with experts such as a Jewish historian and museum curator, a photojournalist searching for Green Book sites once listed in the guides, a former mail carrier who is now a college professor that studies the history of postal workers activism, and a story arc emerged. After the movie “Green Book” released, I already had the bones of the story, but it sparked a lot of discussion about the guide and I had access to even more information.
What did your illustrator bring to the project?
When the publisher started looking for an illustrator, my editor told me they reached out to Alleanna Harris but not to get my hopes up because she was in such high demand. It was clear from other nonfiction books Alleanna illustrated that she would do the research and add so much more to the story, so I crossed my fingers and toes. Knowing she signed on the project assured me it was in talented hands. Literally!
The cover…which I will reveal now…
…and interior spread show exactly what I wanted readers to take away from this book: yes, legal segregation made travel and life difficult for Black citizens. Yes, there was unfairness, and protests, but there was also room for joy. And Victor Green found a solution that worked at that time. It felt like he led and won a battle in the war against racism. And Black families, their communities and allies helped create the change they wanted, together.
Although the story and art in OPENING THE ROAD: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book take you back in time, kids will connect things that happened then to today’s events and see what has and hasn’t changed over the last 80 years.
Thank you, Keila, for introducing us to your book.
Keila will be giving away a copy of OPENING THE ROAD to one lucky blog reader.
Leave one comment below to enter.
A random winner will be selected next month.
Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020), the author of The King Cake Baby, and the forthcoming Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. Visit her at keiladawson.com, on Twitter @keila_dawson, on Instagram @keilavdawson, and on Pinterest @keiladawson.