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The Red Rose Box

The Red Rose Box

3.6 8
by Brenda Woods

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On her tenth birthday, Leah receives a surprise gift from glamorous Aunt Olivia, Mama's only sister, who lives in Los Angeles.  It is a red rose box.  Not many people in 1958 Louisiana have seen such a beautiful traveling case, covered with red roses, filled with jewelry, silk bedclothes, expensive soaps...and train tickets to California.  Soon after,


On her tenth birthday, Leah receives a surprise gift from glamorous Aunt Olivia, Mama's only sister, who lives in Los Angeles.  It is a red rose box.  Not many people in 1958 Louisiana have seen such a beautiful traveling case, covered with red roses, filled with jewelry, silk bedclothes, expensive soaps...and train tickets to California.  Soon after, Leah and her sister, Ruth, find themselves in Hollywood, far away from cotton fields and Jim Crow laws.  To Leah, California feels like freedom.  But when disaster strikes back home, Leah and Ruth have to stay with Aunt Olivia permanently.  Will freedom ever feel like home?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Woods's moving first novel opens in sleepy Sulphur, La., in June 1953, when Leah receives a 10th birthday present from her estranged aunt in Los Angeles: a traveling case covered with red roses. The gift holds treasures the likes of which Leah has never seen: costume jewelry, a pink silk bed jacket ("like what rich white women wears b'fore bed at night," her grandmother tells Leah and her sister), pink satin slippers, nail polish, lipstick. A letter of apology from Leah's aunt to Leah's mother occasions a visit to L.A. with her mother, grandmother and younger sister, and Leah revels in the luxuries of her aunt's privileged world, a stark contrast to the subsistent lifestyle the child knows. Exposure to the freedom from segregation that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line also makes a dramatic impression on the heroine. After the girls' parents perish in a hurricane and the siblings move into the elegant home of kind Olivia and her husband, the youngsters want for nothing. Yet Leah's thoughts of her parents and past haunt her constantly: "It felt like I was a million miles from Sulphur and crayfish, cotton fields and hand-me-down clothes, a one-room schoolhouse, segregation, and Jim Crow. But I knew one thing. I knew that I would gladly give up this new comfort and freedom to be in my mama's arms, to feel the tenderness in my daddy's touch one more time." Though the repetition of similar reflections occasionally slackens the pace of Woods's narrative, she creates some memorable characters, especially Leah, and probes historical events in a personal context that may open many readers' eyes. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
On Leah's eleventh birthday, an elaborate gift arrives from her glamorous Aunt Olivia, estranged from Leah's mother for many years. It is a train case with a design of red roses, filled with jewelry, lipstick, and other luxurious items signaling Leah's passage from childhood to young womanhood. Best of all, there are four train tickets for the family to come visit Olivia and her husband in Los Angeles. There Leah and her sister, Ruth, discover a world in which life is very different for African Americans than in their little Louisiana country town of the 1950s. When their parents die in a hurricane, the sisters must decide whether they can make that life their own. Although this curious book takes place during a tumultuous time in American history, there is only the barest mention of the events surrounding the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. The discrimination and fear that Leah and her family experience in the rural South is portrayed but not emphasized. Even the grief and anger that the girls must feel at the loss of their parents is muted. Reading it is like sitting on the porch, listening to an elderly relative reminisce about events too long ago to have any sting. Nevertheless the book is well written, and Leah's voice is authentic. The age of the protagonist, the subtlety of the era's portrayal, and the almost elegiac tone will limit its appeal among young adult readers.
— Kathleen Beck
Leah and her sister Ruth, both teenagers and Black, are growing up in segregated Sulphur, Louisiana, in the 1950s, long before the term African-American became vogue. They know a world of separate schools, "white" and "colored" water fountains, and of course, distinct social classes. Their life changes, though, when they receive the unexpected surprise of train tickets to go visit their mysterious and generous Aunt Olivia in California. Suddenly, a world of freedom opens up for them. As Leah takes off on her journey West, she begins to realize the differences in the world outside her little town of Sulphur, LA. Traveling, she sees the contrasts of how races and individuals are treated elsewhere, and begins to wonder why "inequalities between white people and Negroes," do exist, and why people cannot live together peacefully. Leah and her sister's lives change tragically when their parents are killed in a hurricane back home in Louisiana, and they are forced to live permanently with Aunt Olivia in California. They must cope with new friends, new rules, new freedom, and a profound loss. Middle school readers will enjoy this book. It is a good read, and is filled with enough social historical information to be of great value to any classroom discussion. Teachers can engage their students in talks about race, prejudice, and a time in America when Blacks and Whites were far from equal. 2002, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 136 pp., Zipperer
School Library Journal
Leah Hopper and her younger sister, Ruth, live in segregated rural Louisiana in the early 1950s. For her 10th birthday, the older girl receives a traveling case-a "red rose box"-from her mother's wealthy sister. Among other treasures, it contains train tickets for a family visit in Los Angeles. A long-lasting rift between Aunt Olivia and the children's mother is finally mended during the reunion. In L.A. there is no sign of the racial prejudice that the Hoppers are so accustomed to as a black family in the South, and the girls reluctantly return home. Later, during a trip to New York City with Aunt Olivia and Uncle Bill, they feel the same way, and then a hurricane strikes their hometown, killing their parents. With this devastating loss, the sisters realize that riches and comforts cannot substitute for the kind of family life they had. This is a bittersweet story with good descriptions of settings; a skillful use of figurative language; and well-realized, believable characters. Ruth is the embodiment of a sassy eight-year-old and the adults are genuine, loving, and supportive. The one false note is the portrayal of race relations as near perfect outside the South. This story of grief and loss ends on a hopeful note and will appeal to readers.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Leah Hopper lives in tiny Sulphur, Louisiana, at a time when Jim Crow laws reign supreme. But she dreams of becoming a teacher, and although she is nurtured by a tender, loving family, she knows that this dream might be unattainable if she remains in the South. She gets a first glimpse of the world beyond via a family visit to her well-to-do Aunt Olivia in glamorous Los Angeles, where her eyes are opened to the possibilities of freedom. While accompanying their aunt on a trip to New York, Leah and her younger sister Rose hear the terrible news that a deadly hurricane has struck Sulphur, killing both their parents, as well as many friends and neighbors. The sisters must begin new lives in California while dealing with their devastating loss. Woods allows Leah to tell her own story, using the language with which she is most comfortable. Her dialect and syntax change, and she carefully corrects herself as she gains more education and experience. She sees clearly and notices everything. She paints a picture of every character down to the exact skin shade and hairstyle. Her power of description is so strong that the reader feels the searing heat and poverty of rural Louisiana and her amazement at the startling richness and openness of California. She shares her grief and guilt over her belief that her parents' death has allowed her to escape from poverty and racism. This is a work that beautifully and accurately evokes a particularly painful and hopeful time through an insider's eyes, and yet it is also a timeless, universal tale of a young girl's road to maturity. An impressive debut.
From the Publisher
"A timeless universal tale of young girl's road to maturity.  An impressive debut." -Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
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Penguin Group
830L (what's this?)
File size:
286 KB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"A timeless universal tale of young girl's road to maturity. An impressive debut." -Kirkus Reviews

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The Red Rose Box 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked the book. This book was very interesting. The inly partni dont likenabout the book is that the ending leaves you in suspense..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story talks about how a little girl learns about her father that had died was black and her mom who is white. Kids at her school talk about her and her family. She does not about her gandparents. She never met them since she was born
Ali_gator45 More than 1 year ago
o Red Rose Box setting is in the 1950's when the south was still living in segregation. The story is about a 10-year-old girl named Leah Hopper and her life struggles that she must deal with. One day Leah's family goes to Las Angeles to see her Aunt Olivia, while being there Leah feels as though she finally understands the true meaning of freedom. She is truly shocked and in awe by the way the other half of the world is living, and this gives her hope into becoming somebody important someday. Leah’s aspirations to become a prominent figure in society are crushed one day when a horrible thing occurs. Leah was left puzzled about how to go on with her life. Leah's constantly strives to fit in and be successful in this new world. This story really models how everything can be set one day and then turn upside down the next. Leah really matured trying to recover from previous events. I would recommend this to Grades 4-6.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jrhelwig More than 1 year ago
I have never known what it is like to be a young African American female living in the segregated south in 1953; however Brenda Woods gives the readers of The Red Rose Box the feeling as if they are there with the main character Leah Hopper. The Red Rose Box shows the journey young Leah Hopper goes through as she moves from a poor family in Sulpher, LA to a non-segregated Los Angeles, California. This story is told from first person by a ten year old girl Leah. Leah's innocence and persistence throughout the book brings new light to the journey a young girl goes through as her body changes and she moves from one cultural setting to the complete opposite. Leah's sister who is also her best friend, Ruth joins Leah on her journey of growth and lean on each other throughout the book. Leah receives a package from her Aunt Olivia for her tenth birthday, a Red Rose Box. Inside the box there are all sorts of gifts that a young girl would love to have such as a real watch and costume jewelry that looked real. Leah uses this box to hold her most important items and she keeps it locked and hidden away from her mother. Leah, Ruth, her mother and her gramma go to visit her Aunt Olivia in Los Angeles. They have a nice visit and see that Los Angeles is not segregated like Sulpher. Leah is surprised by the fact that they can go into stores where whites are and drink out of the same drinking fountains. After they return home Leah's mother receives a letter from Aunt Olivia to ask them to go to New York City with her. Leah's mother, Rita, allows Leah and Ruth to go to New York with Aunt Olivia. Rita cannot go because she needs to stay in Sulpher and take care of Miss Lilly. While in New York City a hurricane hits Sulpher and kills their parents and most others in the town. Gramma and her friend are saved. After this disaster, Ruth and Leah have to live with their Aunt Olivia in Los Angeles. This is a major culture shock for girls who used to walk barefoot to a one room school house, help their mom with Miss Lilly's laundry and play simple games with their friends. In Los Angeles the girls wear new clothes and nice shoes to a bigger school. There is no sign of the racial prejudice that they are used to from growing up in Sulpher. They are able to be friends with children of other nationalities and Leah has a crush on the neighbor boy, Gilbert Martinez, who is Hispanic. After a visit from her gramma Leah is finally starting to come to peace with her parents' death. By the end of the book Leah Hopper has matured and gone through major changes in her life and has shown strength and persistence time after time. Surprisingly this is Brenda Woods' first novel. She has written other short stories and screen plays however she seems to write novels so naturally. Throughout the book I could feel myself with Leah and her family as they moved from place to place. This is a great book suggested for 9-12 year olds. This is a great book showing the struggles young women went through in the segregated south and also the struggles young women today face.
Bagpiper05 More than 1 year ago
The Red Rose Box by Brenda Woods is a story of two southern girls from Sulphur, Louisiana that dream of living in a world with no segregation laws. The main character named Leah Jean Hopper and her sister Ruth want to leave Sulphur and know what true freedom is all about. On Leah's 11th birthday she receives a box with a red rose on it. The box is from her Aunt Olivia that lives in Los Angeles. Leah and her family visit aunt Olivia in Los Angeles and she discovers a new and wonderful place with no segregation. Leah really notices the difference when she returns to Sulphur and can't do the same things in Louisiana that she did in California. Her aunt Olivia invites Leah and Ruth to New York, but while their she suffers a horrible loss. Her mother and father are killed in a hurricane. After that she lives with her aunt and uncle and learns to live on after her loss of her family. I thought the story was very well written because it really made me feel for Leah and wanted her to succeed and rise above the segregation. The story had a great sense to add how the troubles of the segregated south was really hard for African Americans and how they dealt with it. Leah and Ruth wanted to leave desperately, but after her parents died Leah wanted to return to what felt normal. Great way to show children that there are some things in life that you just need to move on from. This story has great examples of some difficult topics for older elementary children and middle school students to read about including death, acceptance, and race. Overall I would recommend this book for readers trying to gain an insight on how life was for young African Americans during the civil rights. It can really give you as a reader a different perspective on how tough life was for African Americans in the segregated south.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AndyG More than 1 year ago
This book revolves around the main characters, Leah and Ruth, who are sisters that live with their family in Sulphur, Louisiana. They are a typical southern family who has a husband that travels for work while the women stay home to clean and cook. Soon enough, Leah receives a box decorated with roses for her birthday from her Aunt Olivia in California containing fine goods and four train tickets. The family, excluding the husband, travels to Hollywood to enjoy the scenery. Shortly after returning, the girls are asked to go with their aunt and uncle to New York. Tragically, while staying their, a hurricane destroys the town, along with the family. Only the grandma and a relative survives. So, Leah and Ruth go back to California to begin their new lives in the city. Personally, I did not care too much to read through the entire book. The main turn off was the language that was used by the Southern characters of the story. It took me longer to understand many of the sentences. Other than this problem, the book told of many lessons that a person can learn during a lifetime. These lessons include the pain of loss, learning to adapt to a new environment, and the idea that the south used to be a very unpleasant place to be colored.