Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources: Opening the Road Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book by Keila V. Dawson and Alleanna Harris

Opening the RoadOver three years ago, I wrote about Victor Hugo’s Green Book in a KQ post based on a historical fiction picture book. I thought Hugo’s story was amazing then. That is one reason I was so excited to read Keila V. Dawson and Alleanna Harris’s nonfiction picture book when it came out earlier this year. 

Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book explores not only the creation of The Negro Motorist Green Book but its creator. We learn about Green, his ideas, and his hopes. Readers also learn about the setting of racial injustice and division through the decades The Green Book was printed.

Revisiting Ideas about Using The Green Book with Students

Many ideas from my 2018 post blog post work well with this Dawson and Harris’s new picture book. Victor H. Green’s story invites us to explore history and geography as intertwined elements. Beyond a mention of Green’s hometown of Harlem, the picture book leaves out mentions of specific states or towns. The all-encompassing story invites young readers to ask, “What if a Black family was traveling through my town during this time? Would The Green Book have helped them?”

This picture book and those questions drive students directly into The Green Book to find the answer. A 1946 publication can be found in the Library of Congress’s digital offerings. The New York Public Library has many other years of publication that students can view online.

Exploring Other Aspects of Victor H. Green and The Green Book

Dawson and Harris’s picture book encourages the use of other primary sources alongside the book. It also invites other interactions between the sources and the picture book.

  • With Hugo being the main character within the story, exploring more primary source material about the man could be a great way to continue to explore the character from the book. Newspaper articles mentioning Hugo can be found in a curated set of primary sources. Ask students: What character traits come through in both the picture book and articles? What story details may the author have seen in this or a similar article?
  • As another way to explore the main character of Opening the Road through primary sources, look at the introduction of copies of The Green Book. Many contain an introduction from Victor H. Green. Ask students to read the introduction through the lens of what they can learn about Hugo.


    The Detroit Tribune, March 15, 1947

  • Explore Harris’s possible research process for the illustrations as well. The text in a spread midway through the story mentions a national chain of gas stations but not the name. The accompanying illustration shows the name of the gas station chain. Challenge students to use Chronicling America, a database of historical newspapers, to see if they can find a reference to the chain and a connection with The Green Book.
  • Opening the Road clearly shows The Green Book as a resource for Black Americans. After reading the book, share the 1946 Green Book. When interacting with a primary source, I often ask students, “What did you see that you didn’t expect to see?” Or I might ask, “What did you expect to see that you didn’t see?” In this case, I would predict students would point out the advertisements for cars that all contain white models. This may lead to a wider discussion on businesses and advertising at the time of The Green Book publication.

    The Dayton Forum, May 3, 1946

    The Dayton Forum, May 3, 1946

  • There is always an opportunity for students to find their own primary sources to accompany a picture book. Begin by suggesting students use Chronicling America. Use text and illustrations from the book to determine what search terms should be used. The timeline in the back matter may give assistance in narrowing the dates searched. As students find results, they may click between the title result and newspaper page image to find out more about the newspaper. Asking what trends they see will likely show that most or all references to Victor Hugo Green and The Green Book are in newspapers published for Black readers.
  • Expand outside of the historical topic. After students have a familiarity with the placement of The Green Book in history, share an article from a 1946 issue of The Dayton Forum. In it, it is mentioned that there has been a four-year gap between issues of The Green Book. Ask students to explore other historical events that may explain why the book had not been published for those years.

Dawson and Harris’s account of Victor Hugo Green in Opening the Road gives so many entry points to interact with primary source documents. These suggestions may fit better at certain grade levels or curricular opportunities, giving the book many places to call home.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for taking such a deep dive into how to use OPENING THE ROAD with students learning about primary resources. As always, you shared great ideas!


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