Before Brown versus the Board of Education settled the issue of segregating school children by law, a case in California challenged the practice of sending darker skinned Mexican-American students to separate, inferior schools. In this picture book, Tonatiuh shows how 11-year-old Sylvia and the Mendez family rallied the community to protest this unequal treatment. He also makes it clear why many were afraid to join the protest.
The struggle to gain civil rights is complex but Tonatiuh makes it accessible to a young audience. Another picture book about a minority group seeking rights is Lakas and the Hotel Makibaka by Anthony Robles about Filipino-American activism. Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges will help beginning readers understand how it felt to be a first-grader who integrated a school.
Curiously, Earl Warren who was the governor of California at the time of the Mendez case became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in time to hear the case of Brown versus the Board of Education.
Tonatiuh's illustrations evoke traditional Mixtec codex art and show that the school children have more in common than their differences. Separate Is Never Equal received a 2015 Pura Belpre illustrator honor and a Siebert honor for a distinguished informational book for children.
Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL