Cover image for Walking to the bus-rider blues
Walking to the bus-rider blues
Robinet, Harriette.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2000.
Physical Description:
146 pages ; 22 cm
Twelve-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his older sister, and their grandmother struggle for rent money, food, and their dignity as they participate in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in the summer of 1956.
General Note:
"A Jean Karl book."
Reading Level:
550 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.1 4.0 41795.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.5 9 Quiz: 22106 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

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Twelve-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his older sister, and their grandmother struggle for rent money, food, and their dignity as they participate in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in the summer of 1956.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3^-6. Alfa Merryfield has a bad case of what he calls "the Alabamy bus-rider blues." The year is 1956 and the black community in Montgomery, inspired by Rosa Parks, is boycotting local buses, determined to challenge white supremacy and change the "System." But this is only one of Alfa's problems: his family--sister Zinnia and great-grandmother Mama Merryfield--also has "a bad case of rent money blues." The end of the month is near, and someone has been stealing from the family's meager savings. When Alfa and his family are themselves subsequently accused of stealing money from a wealthy doctor, the mystery deepens and the boy decides to solve the puzzle by using the "scientific method." Ultimately, the easily resolved mystery is less compelling than Robinet's quietly dramatic, often poignant re-creation of the early days of the civil rights movement and Alfa's growing determination to "put up his dukes" nonviolently in defense of his family's dignity. --Michael Cart

Publisher's Weekly Review

Robinet (Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule) sets this quasi-mystery and historical novel in June 1956 during the Montgomery bus boycott, and 12-year-old Alfa's narration brings its ramifications home and lends the events a sense of immediacy. Alfa lives with his great-grandmother Mama Mayfield, well respected in the town even among many white people, and sister Zinnia in a ramshackle tar-paper house. He composes the "bus-rider blues" as he attempts to bolster his courage against three white bullies who steal his pay from the Greendale grocery where he works. He manages to turn the tables on the trio by applying the philosophy of the newly arrived Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he hears at rallies in his church. When a wealthy white woman accuses Alfa's family of stealing from her while cleaning her home, he puts King's teachings to the test. Robinet conveys the tension in Montgomery, not only through the impact of the bus boycott and King's preaching of non-violence on day-to-day interactions among townspeople but through the reverberations of African-American Emmett Till's racially motivated murder the previous summer. A few important threads remain only partially explored, such as the loan shark who holds a connection to both the accusing white family and Alfa and Zinnia's "phantom mother," and some inconsistencies come through in Mr. Greendale's and Zinnia's characters. The novel is at its strongest when filling in historical details of the time, such as the volunteer taxi service for bus boycotters, and may well inspire readers to discover more about this important chapter in civil rights history. Ages 8-12. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Six months into the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, resourceful 12-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his older sister Zinnia, and his devoted grandmother, Big Mama, walk everywhere, pooling their meager wages to pay the rent on their tar-paper home. When their money begins disappearing, the siblings are determined to solve the mystery and to keep their home. Struggling to make ends meet, they take a house-cleaning job that leads to accusations of theft. Persevering and observant, Alfa solves this second mystery, confronts the white establishment with the truth, and saves his home. In the process, he discovers that financial and domestic troubles can be found in the homes of whites as well as "coloreds." He also discovers that his own estranged, drug-addicted mother has been secretly extorting their precious rent money from Big Mama. Local echoes of the civil-rights era permeate the story. Alfa feels the pain of injustice when white boys steal his wages, his longtime grocery-store boss fires him for being implicated in a theft, and guards threaten and beat him for attempting to use the local library. And yet, with idealism and personal conviction, he rises above these abuses and proves to himself and the "System" that through nonviolence and persistence, truth can prevail. Despite the emphasis on racial inequities, both black and white characters are shown as vulnerable and capable of change. Ingredients of mystery, suspense, and humor enhance and personalize this well-constructed story that offers insight into a troubled era.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.