There is a book that has been on my shelves for a year and a half, and despite it being a double-medal winner, I had never read it . . . until a man came in my store a few days ago to purchase and educate me about this treasure.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is the factual story of the Mendez’s fight for their children to receive an equal education. Had it been appealed at the state level, this story would have been the Brown vs Board of Education of the 1940s. Instead, it was decided at the state level that the Mendezes were treated unfairly and were able to attend the previously all-white school.
There are two reasons every Orange County classroom should have this book. First, it is a significant story (told for children) about the history of school acceptance. It shows injustice and how a family bravely and legally fought for their rights. It is inspiring, as we see Sylvia Mendez be rejected from the all-white school and then have the victory that resulted in her having the right to attend that school and learn and make friends there.
Second, this is a local story. This happened in the Westminster School District in the 1940s. The locations of “Santa Ana,” “Westminster,” “Garden Grove,” “El Modena,” “Orange County,” and even “17th Street” are specifically mentioned. There are so few children’s books that are specifically about Orange County, and this one is an award-winner! This is the way history comes alive for children. They will read about Sylvia’s school on 17th Street, and later that day, they can be driving along on 17th Street themselves!
The illustrations by author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh are a combination of collage and contemporary illustration. They are unique and folkloric at the same time.
Teachers, school librarians, principals of Orange County, do you have this book in your school library? It is a must-have for every school! Come by and read it today to see for yourself!