Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
Reviewed by Karen Heidenreich
December 1, 2021
By Keila V. Dawson, illustrated by Alleanna Harris. Beaming Books, 2021. 40 pages. $19.99/hardcover; $12.99/eBook. Friends Journal recommends for ages 4–12.
This is a beautifully illustrated and clearly written book that tells a story unknown to many readers. Many children have learned about the dangers and difficulties faced by African Americans in the days of Jim Crow and legal segregation; however, this story focuses on the simple desire to travel safely.
Postal worker Victor Hugo Green was “tired of hearing no.” Longing to explore his home state of New York and beyond and inspired by a guide for Jewish people containing information on how to find food and lodging away from home, Green penned a ten-page booklet for Black travelers. In a true grassroots movement, Green spread word about his book through local churches and clubs. Green’s book (the Green Book, of course) grew in size and scope until it was named an “official Negro travel guide” by the U.S. government in 1940.
Eventually, more than two million copies of the book were in circulation, pointing out more than safe accommodations. Access to points of interest in Black history and Black colleges, and businesses and entertainment options enriched the lives of Black Americans. In a somewhat ironic twist, the rise of the Civil Rights Movement led to the decline of the Green Book. Six years after Green’s death, the final issue was published in 1966.
A fact-packed afterword and informative timeline add dimension to the story, along with an acknowledgment that this journey is far from over. Simple, uncomplicated, yet rich writing makes this book accessible for audiences from preschool through upper elementary years.
Karen Heidenreich is a member of Little Falls Meeting in Fallston, Md., and a fifth-grade teacher at Friends School of Baltimore. She has taught in independent schools for 20 years, educating preschool through middle school students.