Books: Non-Fiction

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks: Young Readers Edition

Book — Non-fiction. By Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert. 2021.
This biography of Rosa Parks accessibly examines her six decades of activism, challenging young readers’ perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the Civil Rights Movement.

Time Periods: 1945, 1961, 1975, 20th Century
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Racism & Racial Identity, Women's History

Finally, a book about the real Rosa Parks — the Rosa Parks who was a lifelong activist, tireless organizer, and who did so much more than refuse to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama. In story after story, Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert breathe life into the rebellious Mrs. Rosa Parks, a fighter for justice who will intrigue and inspire young people. And for all of us who want to teach honestly about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement, this is an essential resource. Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor, Rethinking Schools; co-director, Zinn Education Project

Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who performed a single act that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and birthed the modern Civil Rights Movement, Jeanne Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’ politics and decades of activism. She shows readers how the movement radically sought — for more than a half a century — to expose and eradicate the racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice and how Rosa Parks was a key player throughout.

The original text is fully adapted by Theoharis and the award-winning young adult author Brandy Colbert, for middle-grade and young adult readers to include archival images and personal papers of Rosa Parks, and to provide the necessary historical context to bring the multi-faceted, decades-long Civil Rights Movement to life.  [Publisher’s description.]


Rosa Parks was a powerful, strategic, and dedicated activist whose witness inspired this nation to do things previously thought impossible. Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert have overturned simplistic descriptions of Mrs. Parks with extraordinary research, writing, and compassion. This is a must-read for young people hoping to understand the power we all have to make a difference. — Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

To truly honor Mrs. Rosa Parks is to set the record straight. She was not an accidental heroine or just a tired old lady; she was a lifelong rebellious freedom fighter in every sense of the word. Theoharis has captured the beauty and complexity of Mrs. Parks’s life. Deeply researched and engaging, this rich chronicle of Mrs. Parks’s life is a page-turner for adults and youth alike. Theoharis and Colbert have told Mrs. Parks’s life with so much love, care, and truth telling. Bravo! — Bettina L. Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

ISBN: 978-080706757-4 | Beacon Press

More on Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

Rosa Parks Was a Radical in The Jacobin

Rosa Parks: What to Know About the Lifelong Activist and Civil Rights Icon in Teen Vogue

Pitting Rosa Parks against Claudette Colvin distorts history in The Washington Post with Say Burgin

Book Launch with Jeanne Theoharis and Jesse Hagopian

Jeanne Theoharis and high school teacher Jesse Hagopian discuss the life of Rosa Parks. Find more conversations between teachers and historians about the Black freedom struggle in our series, People’s Historians Online: Spring 2020.

Teacher Testimonials and Stories

I loved the young readers edition of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks! From time to time a book comes along that inspires me with a missionary-like zeal. I want everyone to read it. I want teachers to teach it and students to learn it.

It’s one of those books I wish I could hand out to random people on the street, and tell them, “You need to know this!” We need myth-busting books! The author asks, “So why do we get the ‘tired bus lady’ version when that story isn’t true?”

The truth of course is that there was so much to tell about Rosa Parks pre- and post- the bus. Not only is her story illuminated, light is shed on the era encompassing her entire life as well as the events in which we are currently engaged. This book teaches the truth!

—Denny McCabe
Middle School U.S. History Teacher (retired), Waterloo, Iowa

I introduced book clubs this year, where students had a list of books to choose from. I created groups of no more than four students, and the students read and the book together and regularly met to discuss it. I used the young readers edition of  The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks as an option in my class book club this year and had several students who chose, on their own, to read this book. The students came away with not only new knowledge but a “wow” moment when they realized all they did not know.

Most of the student’s book club options were fictional novels, but there was still interest in this book, this account of Rosa Parks’ life. The students realized this person was not just a woman who sat on a bus, but a woman who had a life filled with many moments of inspiration.

Having this book available for my students to read and check out on their own was great. I would not have had that option without the generosity of the Zinn Education Project.

—Elizabeth Tanner
High School Language Arts/English Teacher, Mesa, Arizona

1 comments on “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks: Young Readers Edition

  1. Isaree G Patterson on

    As a twelve year old, living in Greenwood, Mississippi, my parents gave my siblings and I permission to march and protest for civil rights. My siblings and I heard about the voting rights act from our parents. Protesting and boycotting white businesses were our way of expressing our outrage about racism. My sister Barbara and I were arrested downtown for protesting, I was twelve and my sister Barbara was fourteen.

    I could have been arrested earlier when my friends and I were boycotting several businesses owned by white families, however, the policemen could never catch me. I was a fast runner, the police caught my friend Vera who was short, sassy and chubby.

    As the policeman was chasing me, he was shouting at me to stop or he would shoot me. I was thirteen at the time, I could hear the people sitting on their porches shouting run baby run.

    My heart was beating fast. I didn’t want to die. I knocked on Mr. & Mrs. Griffin house, she said I was beating on her door. I shouted “hide me, hide me” the cop is chasing me. I was grateful she was home to protect me. She told me to hide under the bed and don’t move.

    Of course, I was so nervous and frantic, you heard so many horror stories about blacks being murdered in MS. I didn’t want to be a victim, I wanted to be a survivor. I was five when I heard my parents talked about Emmett Till which was 30 miles (Money, MS) from Greenwood.

    After hiding under the bed for approximately 15 terrifying minutes, Mrs. Griffin, my guardian angel said it was ok to leave. I ran home to let my mom know Vera had been arrested. She immediately went to Vera’s family home to let them know. No one was home, my mom went back to the house an hour later.

    When Vera’s mom arrived at the police station, she was told Vera wasn’t there. She let them know she wasn’t leaving without her daughter. Vera said they took her to the police station to view an 8mm film, they wanted her to identify me. She gave them a fake name, lied and said I lived in another community. They threatened to throw her into Yahoo River if she didn’t identify me. I know she didn’t tell them because they never came to my home looking for me. She was a great friend and life saver.

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