Kid Lit Review of “Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book” by Keila V. Dawson

This picture book will acquaint many readers with The Green Book, a yearly publication first available in 1936 that apprised African Americans of places that would welcome Black travelers. Before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, many hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, and other establishments would not serve African Americans. When traveling they often had to pack cold food, blankets, pillows for sleeping the car, and make-do toilets. There was a large demand for information on whether there were any safe places they could go.

New York City mail carrier Victor Green decided to do something about it, and began compiling lists of places that were welcoming to Black Americans. His first guide was ten pages and related only to the New York area. The author observed, “It sold like hotcakes!” People began calling Victor and begging that he expand his book to cover other states, so Victor wrote letters to other Black postal workers all over the country for the names and addresses of places that welcomed Black customers.

Two years later, The Green Book had more than doubled in size, and by 1941 it contained 80 pages. Eventually the guide covered all of the US, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada, and more than two million copies of The Green Book were sold. The only time it was not published was during World War II, from 1942 to 1945. You can find an entire edition of the 1949 book online here. As Newsweek reported, The Green Book “often meant the difference between a hot meal and a vicious beating.”

The Ebony Motel, a listing in the green book, is pictured in 1962 in Alabama.
JEAN-PHILIPPE CHARBONNIER/GAMMA-RAPHO/GETTY

The Civil Rights Bill, making such discrimination illegal, was passed on July 2, 1964, and Victor Green published the final edition of The Green Book soon thereafter. (In the Introduction to the 1949 book linked to above, the author writes, “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication . . .”)

The book ends with an Author’s Note, timeline, and selected bibliography. In the Note, the author writes “even as movements build and some things improve, racist systems and practices persist.” Writing of The Green Book’s “renaissance” in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, a librarian at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture pointed to the nation experiencing “what feels like a nadir of disregard for the sanctity of Black life,” and suggested that “in order to fully grasp and understand the importance of this 80-year-old publication, we must also truly grapple with how Black motorists are still being treated by the police and their fellow citizens.”

Alleanna Harris does a great job as always incorporating historical references into her animation-style illustrations.

Evaluation: This book provides a good way for children to understand just what “Jim Crow” was and what it meant for blacks to live under its strictures, even though they were supposed to be equal citizens. (Another excellent picture book for children on the same subject but with a fictional little girl on a trip as narrator, showing the user’s point of view, is Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, published by Carolrhoda Books in 2010.)

Rating: 5/5

Published by Beaming Books, 2021

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book: Fall 1956, via New York Public Library

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2 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book” by Keila V. Dawson

  1. sagustocox says:

    This is so interesting. I would love to get this book for my daughter.

  2. Keila Dawson says:

    Thanks so much for writing such a wonderful review of OPENING THE ROAD and including so much additional information about the era and links to primary sources.

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