Read Aloud: The Story of Ruby Bridges By Robert Coles


Students are familiar with Norman Rockwell’s illustration, The Problem We All Live With. They have heard Ruby Bridges tell her story in the picture book, Ruby Bridges Goes To School. In this activity they will listen to a second account of Ruby’s story. The author, Dr. Robert Coles, a psychiatrist who worked with Ruby and her family during her year in the first grade at William Frantz Elementary School, tells Ruby’s story as an observer in his book The Story of Ruby Bridges. Students will compare story versions on a Venn diagram. Note: Both of these texts are primary resources. However, the authors tell their story from different perspectives.


Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions:

  1. People have not always been treated equally.
  2. People of all ages, races, cultures, and walks of life have helped to bring about change in our country.
  3. We can learn about the history of our country not only from documents and historians - people who study the events that took place in the past - but also from the first-hand accounts of people who participated in these events.
    • Why are some people treated differently than others?
    • In what ways can people help to bring about change?
    • How do we learn about events that happened in the past?
    • Why are all accounts of a historical events not the same?
The Problem We All Live With
The activity will take approximately one 30 minute period.
Social Studies; Language Arts: Reading; Language Arts: Speaking and Listening
Desegregation; Segregation; Forgive; Federal Marshalls; New Orleans; Civil Rights Movement; Psychiatrist; Judge; President Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President; 1953-1961)


  • Students will listen for information given explicitly in the text.
  • Students will make inferences supported by explicit information in text.
  • Students will compare two sources of information, including details of literary elements as well as point of view.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of life during the era.



In the 1960s, particularly following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the intensification of American military activity in Vietnam, long-held beliefs and cultural norms shifted dramatically in America. Attitudes about race, sexuality, and gender roles were challenged as diverse social groups united to fight for civil rights and protest the Vietnam War.

After resigning his forty-seven year tenure with The Saturday Evening Post in 1963, Norman Rockwell embraced the challenge of creating imagery that addressed the nation’s pressing concerns in a pared down, reportorial style. The Problem We All Live With for Look magazine is based upon an actual event, when six-year-old Ruby Bridges was escorted by U.S. Marshals to her first day at an all-white school. While the neutral title of the image invites interpretation, Rockwell’s depiction of the vulnerable but dignified girl clearly condemns the actions of those who protest her presence and the issue of desegregation. Letters to the editor were a mix of praise and criticism, but that did not stop Rockwell from pursuing his course.

In September 1960, years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling stating that separate was not equal in America’s public schools, four African American students were selected to begin the integration process in the public elementary schools of New Orleans, Louisiana. One six year old. Ruby Bridges, was assigned to a first grade class at the William Franz Elementary School. The integration of the schools was not welcome by many white Americans in the south, and parents refused to have Ruby in their child’s class. As a result, she was the only student in the first grade class taught by Boston native, Barbara Henry. For many months, angry parents protested her attendance at the school.

Norman Rockwell's painting, The Problem We All Live With, shows a young African American girl symbolizing Ruby Bridges being escorted to school by U.S. Marshalls despite the barrage of racial slurs and threats. The young girl who posed is Lynda Gunn, Rockwell’s neighbor in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he lived for his last twenty-five years.

The Story of Ruby Bridges is first hand account of Ruby’s experience being integrated into a previously all white school. In this book, Dr. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist, tells Ruby’s story.  Dr. Coles met with Ruby and her first grade teacher regularly. Feeling that Ruby needed someone outside of her family to talk about her experience as a first grader at the William Frantz Elementary School, he volunteered his services. Although a participant, he tells Ruby’s story from a third person point of view.


The Problem We All Live With

Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna

Classroom Supplies:

  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Dr. Robert Coles
  • Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges
  • K-W-L Chart from Close Reading of The Problem We All Live With Activity
  • Class chart: Venn diagram labeled with book titles
  • Markers
  • Lyrics for Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna:


  • Close read The Problem We All Live With. and familiarize students with Ruby Bridges Goes to School by Ruby Bridges. You may want to introduce the book by explaining that the author, Dr. Robert Coles, met with Ruby during her year in first grade on a weekly basis. His book is a first hand account of Ruby’s story, told in the manner of an observer.
  • Prior to reading this book, review K-W-L chart created in Close Reading of The Problem We All Live With Activity. As you are reading, you may wish to add additional information and questions. ( Different color markers can be used when adding  information from different sources to the chart.)
  • Read  The Story of Ruby Bridges by Dr. Robert Coles.
  • Turn and Talk/Sharing points:
    • Book cover: Today we are going to learn more about Ruby Bridges. What do you notice about the cover of this book?
    • Page 5: What new information have we learned about Ruby Bridges?
    • Page 7: How did Ruby and her family feel about the judge’s order? How do you know?
    • Page 12: What did we learn that it was like for Ruby to go to school each day? How do you think she felt? What if it had been you? How would you have felt?
    • Page 15: Who was Ruby’s first grade teacher? How do you know that Mrs. Henry worried about Ruby?
    • Page 17: What was different on the day depicted? What might she being saying?
    • Page 21: Each day, twice a day, Ruby prayed for the people protesting outside the school. What does this tell us about the kind of person Ruby was?
  • Give students the opportunity to talk about this version of the story. They may have information and questions to add to the K-W-L chart.
  • Introduce the Venn diagram as a visual tool for comparing similarities and differences from different sources. If this is your students’ first experience using a Venn diagram, explain how it can help to organize information.
  • Give students time to think about information to put in each section. You may want to begin with differences. Have the K-W-L chart in view as it can remind students of what they learned from each of the sources.
  • Discuss the similarities and differences of the two texts. Why are some things the same while others are different? Do the differences change your understanding of Ruby’s story?
  • If you have not shared Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna, you may want to introduce it in the video form. If students are familiar with the song, the words  are included and may be passed out for the students to sing along.


  • Are students able to identify important information explicitly stated in text?
  • Are they supporting inferences with details from the text?
  • Are they able to make relevant connections (Text to text, Text to Self, Text to World) that increase their understanding of story?
  • Are students able to identify differences between life today and during Ruby’s childhood?


This curriculum meets the standards listed below. Look for more details on these standards please visit: ELA and Math StandardsSocial Studies Standards, Visual Arts Standards.

Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 1 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.1"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 2 Language standards 1 and 3 [link to="CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.2"]here[/link] for specific expectations.)
Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.
Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the text in which they appear (e.g., what person, place, thing, or idea in the text an illustration depicts).
Identify facts and concepts associated with a supporting question.
Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions.
Compare life in the past to life today.
Generate questions about individuals and groups who have shaped a significant historical change.
Compare perspectives of people in the past to those of people in the present.
Compare different accounts of the same historical event.
Identify different kinds of historical sources.
Evaluate a source by distinguishing between fact and opinion.
Construct explanations using correct sequence and relevant information.
Ask and answer questions about explanations.