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Wayne State University Press

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The Colored Car

Jean Alicia Elster

Award Winner

African American Studies, Detroit, Fiction, Young Readers

Published: September 2013
ISBN: 9780814336069
Pages: 224 Size: 5 x 7.5
Published: September 2013
ISBN: 9780814336083
Pages: 224 Size: EPUB

An emotional and compelling look at how the joys of daily life and the legacy of slavery affected children in the 1930s.

— Ruth McNally Barshaw

In The Colored Car, Jean Alicia Elster, author of the award-winning Who's Jim Hines?, follows another member of the Ford family coming of age in Depression-era Detroit. In the hot summer of 1937, twelve-year-old Patsy takes care of her three younger sisters and helps her mother put up fresh fruits and vegetables in the family's summer kitchen, adjacent to the wood yard that her father, Douglas Ford, owns. Times are tough, and Patsy's mother, May Ford, helps neighborhood families by sharing the food that she preserves. But May's decision to take a break from canning to take her daughters for a visit to their grandmother's home in Clarksville, Tennessee, sets in motion a series of events that prove to be life-changing for Patsy.

After boarding the first-class train car at Michigan Central Station in Detroit and riding comfortably to Cincinnati, Patsy is shocked when her family is led from their seats to change cars. In the dirty, cramped "colored car," Patsy finds that the life she has known in Detroit is very different from life down south, and she can hardly get the experience out of her mind when she returns home—like the soot stain on her finely made dress or the smear on the quilt squares her grandmother taught her to sew. As summer wears on, Patsy must find a way to understand her experience in the colored car and also deal with the more subtle injustices that her family faces in Detroit. By the end of the story, Patsy will never see the world in the same way that she did before.

Elster's engaging narrative illustrates the personal impact of segregation and discrimination and reveals powerful glimpses of everyday life in 1930s Detroit. For young readers interested in American history, The Colored Car is engrossing and informative reading.

Jean Alicia Elster is a professional writer of fiction for children and young adults. She is the granddaughter of Douglas and Maber (May) Jackson Ford, whose family story is the basis of The Colored Car. Her other books include Who's Jim Hines? (Wayne State University Press, 2008), which was selected as a Michigan Notable Book and a ForeWord Book of the Year finalist; I'll Do the Right Thing; I'll Fly My Own Plane; I Have a Dream, Too!; and Just Call Me Joe Joe.

The Colored Car is an emotional and compelling look at how the joys of daily life and the legacy of slavery affected children of the 1930s. We are in Patsy's kitchen when she helps with daily chores in the 1930s, we're in her train car to witness her horror and indignation at segregation, and we are in her heart when she works at letting go of the anger.

– Ruth McNally Barshaw, author and illustrator of The Ellie McDoodle Diaries

I enjoyed this book because I liked Patsy’s character. I liked how she was smart enough to realize that segregation was wrong and brave enough to stand up to it on the train. I recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I really loved this book.

– Elena, age 9, Elena Reads

I would recommend this book for colored kids around the age of 9-10 years who would like to get more in touch with true American history, and people who are just looking for a great book to read. I give this book 4 out of 4 roses because it subtly teaches life fundamentals that aren’t often taught in a classroom.

– Christian S., age 12, Elena Reads

  • 2014 Michigan Notable Book Award - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2014 Midwest Book Awards - Result: Winner in the category of Children's Fiction
  • 2014 Paterson Prize For Books for Young People - Result: Named a 2014 Honor Book