Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 2010. Sit-In:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. Ill. by Brian Pinkney.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company.
ISBN 978-0-316-07016-4


This picture book is a celebration and explanation of the 1960 Woolworth’s lunch counter peaceful sit-in and the sit-in movement that the four students sparked in a quest for racial integration and justice. 


This clever picture book uses food metaphors, poetic word play, and vibrant artwork to share an emotionally charged time in history with young readers. Her repeated phrase, “Their order was simple.  A doughnut and coffee with cream on the side,” unifies the book, especially when students finally receive the order they asked for.  “A doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side, is not about food—it’s about pride.”  The rhyme makes it fun to read aloud, even as the topic is poignant.  The art could have shown the scenes of violence done to the teens, but chose to stick with a few choice descriptions of what the students suffered “a big dose of  hatred, served up hot and heaping.” 

 The references to recipes are many.  Given that this was about sitting in at a lunch counter, they are particularly apropos.  For example, Pinkney writes, “Those kids had a recipe, too.  A new brew called integration.  It was just as simple:  Combine black with white for sweet justice.”  The end of the book even has a fold out page with a “recipe” for integration and racial justice that gives steps such as, “1.  Start with love.  2.  Add conviction.  3. Season with hope…”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words start off the book with one of the themes, “We must meet hate with love,” and the words are big and brightly colored to show their importance.  Every time Dr. King is quoted, his words are set apart both in size and in color, so readers can’t help but notice them.  This book offers up great heroes to the African-American community, not just by including the beloved Dr. King, but also through showing that, “We are all leaders,” because the four students that started the sit-in were just four college kids who wanted things to change.  They were heroes for standing up for what they believed in. Or, as the subtitle cleverly says, for sitting down to stand up for what they believed in. 

The art is comprised of black lines of various thickness and watercolors, with a swirling movement to most images that convey a sense of urgency and immediacy.  The students’ skin tones are accurate cultural markers, offering a range of tones in watercolor.  In the scene in which the students are receiving violence such as coffee dumped on them and pepper thrown in their eyes, the perpetrators are only hinted at in the art, sketched only loosely behind the students, nearly in the same color as the background.  But the students who are protesting are distinctly shown, calm and in full color.  They are fully present, whereas the others are nearly as invisible and powerless as they had wished the students to be.

The back pages include a short and clear Civil Rights timeline, a “Final Helping” which is a note from Andrea Davis Pinkney providing more facts about the movement and her research methodology.  She also provides an additional list of resources. These offerings show the book is historically accurate.  Pinkney manages to effectively capture the hopes and determination of the students involved in this critical era of Civil Rights.

“Children’s literature depicting the history of African-Americans is powerful” (Smolen and Oswald, 116).  When African-American students are able to study their own history, they can not only better understand the past, but take pride in their heritage (116).  But all students benefit from studying books about the history of African-Americans and all students can learn to appreciate the struggles overcome by the African-American community so far and what injustices still remain.  Based on Bank’s levels of multicultural education, this book steps into Level 3 territory, although just barely.  The book, “enables students to view concepts, issues, events, and themes from the perspective of diverse ethnic and cultural groups” (18).


“Starred Review...Even young children will grasp the powerful, elemental, and historic story of those who stood up to oppressive authority and changed the world." -- Booklist, Feb. 1, 2010.  

"Gr 3-6- Through effectively chosen words, Andrea Pinkney brings understanding and meaning to what four black college students accomplished on February 1, 1960, by sitting down at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, NC."-- School Library Journal, April 1, 2010.

"Brian Pinkney's sinuous watercolor and ink art conveys the solidity and determination of the activists as well as a building energy that grew out of their act of civil disobedience.  A succinct civil rights time line and additional facts and suggested reading about the topic round out this account."  -- Publisher's Weekly, Feb. 8, 2010.


  • Do a research project on the Greensboro Sit-In and make a presentation using a Web 2.0 tool such as Voicethread, Photopeach, Animoto or PowToon.
  • Research another important event in the Civil Rights Movement, choosing from the events included in the timeline in the back of the book.  Or go to the Smithsonian National Museums electronic field trip, “which is based on the exhibit, ‘Separate Is Not Equal:  Brown v. Board of education’” (Smolen and Oswald, 50).
  • Experiment with India ink and watercolor, drawing and painting in various styles to create different moods.   Try painting/drawing to different types of music to see if you can replicate the type of mood found in the musical piece. 
  • Do an author study by reading some of Andrea Davis Pinkney’s other works.
  • Read the book aloud, but have students read with you chorally each time Martin Luther King Jr’s words appear.
  • Read along with the picture book, I Have A Dream, by Dr. King Jr., Ill by Kadir Nelson.  Listen to the audio recording of his speech.
  • Act out the book, writing your own play based on the historical events described.
  • Make a “recipe” for A) being kind or fair B)  being tolerant  C)  being _(fill in the blank)_.


I read this to my oldest daughter, who was shocked at the treatment the students received from hateful people.  I was thankful that the illustrations were not too graphic, given her age.  But it was a great realization for her how far we’ve come as a society and it was a great jumping-off point to discuss in which ways our society still needs to improve to become a more fair and tolerant place.

Works Referenced:

King, Martin Luther King, Jr.  2012.  I Have a Dream.  Ill by Kadir Nelson.  NY:  Schwartz Wade Books.

Smolen, Lynn Atkinson and Ruth A. Oswald, ed.  2011.  Multicultural Literature and Response:  Affirming Diverse Voices.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited.

Vardell, Sylvia.  2010.  “Overview” Culture 1 International Lit: Overview.  Texas Woman’s University.  Blackboard class LS 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults.  Web.  Accessed August 28, 2013. 

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