I didn't set out to write about school integration. My intention was to pay a simple visit to Mrs. Pauline Porter, my school's first African-American teacher. I wanted her to know what an impact she had made on my life. The visit touched us both.
Mrs. Porter wasn't supposed to be my teacher. She taught first grade in the classroom beside mine, but every afternoon she changed classrooms with my teacher and worked with those of us who were struggling to read. My own teacher didn't have much patience, and so Mrs. Porter was a godsend. But at the time, Mrs. Porter didn't see it that way. She suspected our principal was checking up on her, by sending the white teacher into her classroom. That never occurred to me as a child, but as an adult, I understood her feelings. School integration was hard. By the end of my visit, Mrs. Porter and I weren't sure of the principal's true motive, but we both knew the children she taught had been helped.
My book, RUBY LEE AND ME was inspired by that visit. Over Christmas, I had the privilege to take Mrs. Porter's daughter a copy of my novel. LaVerne insisted on giving me this caroler that Mrs. Porter had painted in a ceramics class. It's sitting in my office as a reminder to write from the heart, to do good work, to make her proud.
Scholastic has compiled this list of new releases to celebrate Black History Month. I think Mrs. Porter would be pleased to see RUBY LEE AND ME on the list.