Mother Jones and Her Army of Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Published by Schwartz & Wade

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Summary:  Mother Jones tells her story, beginning with some of the things that have made her mad: conditions for coal miners in West Virginia, factory workers getting shot at for protesting for fair pay, and young children working ten-hour days in Philadelphia factories.  It was these last that inspired her to set out with 100 children on July 7, 1903, determined to march from Philadelphia to New York City, and then on to Theodore Roosevelt’s “fancy-schmancy” Long Island summer home to speak with the president himself. They traveled 100 miles in the hot summer sun, demonstrating in towns as they went.  By the time they reached New York, many of the kids had given up and gone home, but 37 of them marched in a torchlight parade up Fourth Avenue. After a trip to Coney Island, Mother Jones sent most of the children home, approaching the Roosevelt mansion with just three of the boys and two other men. They were turned away at the gate, but the Children’s Crusade had shone a spotlight on child labor, and laws began to change.  Includes an author’s note, four photos, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An inspiring story that will show kids the power of some unlikely people:  a 66-year-old woman and 100 poor children taken from factories. The text does a masterful job of using Mother Jones’s voice and incorporating many of her quotes into the story.  The author’s note gives full credit to Mother Jones for being instrumental in changing labor laws for both children and adults.

Cons:  Theodore Roosevelt certainly doesn’t come off too well in this story.

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Vote for Our Future! by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Micah Player and Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights In America by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Published by Schwartz & Wade 

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Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summaries:  Every two years, Stanton Elementary School closes down on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Turns out it’s a polling place on Election Day, and the kids in Vote for Our Future! want to be a part of it.  They visit friends, family, and neighbors to encourage them to vote, meeting each one of their lame excuses with a solution to get them registered and to the polls.  A gatefold page shows long lines on Election Day, and excitement builds as votes are counted and recounted. Kids are back at school the next day, “and the future begins to change”.  Includes a list of Acts of Congress that have made the future better for Americans. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

The rhyming text of Equality’s Call tells the story of how voting rights have changed over the last 200 years.  At first, “white men with property went to the polls, but the rest of the people were left off the rolls”.  Over time, things slowly changed, allowing women, people of color, and the non-wealthy to vote. Every few pages, a double-page spread shows a growing parade of voters with the refrain, “We heard ever louder/Equality’s call/A right isn’t a right/Till it’s granted to all.”  The last few pages remind readers that we owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought for voters’ rights and that “democracy’s dream must be constantly tended”. Includes two pages of voting-related amendments and legislation with a description of each one and two pages with thumbnail profiles of voting rights activists.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A double dose of democracy with two excellent picture books that show the importance of voting and put it in historical context.  

Cons:  Not voting on Election Day!  If you’re in a Super Tuesday state and know someone who isn’t voting today, I encourage you to call or visit that person and read one of these books to them in an aggrieved, disappointed voice.  Say it kids:

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If you would like to buy Vote for Our Future on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy Equality’s Call on Amazon, click here.

We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Following Kristallnacht on November 1, 1938, rescuers organized the Kindertransport to get as many Jewish children out of Germany and Austria as they could.  About 10,000 children’s lives were saved before World War II began in the fall of 1939.  This book focuses on three of those children: what their lives were like before Hitler came to power, how changes gradually or suddenly occurred afterward, and how their parents decided to send them away, not knowing if they would ever see them again.  In most cases, they did not. Many other children are profiled more briefly. There are quite a few photos, although, sadly, not many pictures of the children or their families have survived. The 80 pages of back matter include brief profiles of survivors, rescuers, and historians; a timeline; a glossary; resources for further exploration; a bibliography; source notes; and an index.  368 pages; grades 6-10, although I’m sure there are fourth and fifth graders who would enjoy this.

Pros:  Middle school kids interested in World War II and the Holocaust will find this compelling reading.  Deborah Hopkinson really spells out how Nazism took over Germany, and how ordinary people embraced it and turned on their neighbors–a timely lesson for kids to learn.  The back matter is pretty amazing, including a lot of oral history resources where kids can hear the voices of the survivors.

Cons:  There were so many kids’ stories told, I couldn’t keep them all straight.

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Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  “Leave it to Abigail!” is the repeating refrain of this book, as Abigail Adams defied expectations, beginning with her survival from a sickly baby to a rambunctious, inquisitive young girl.  She married John Adams at the age of 19, and continued to live life on her own terms, running a farm and raising a family when John was away for long periods of time. Their correspondence has become famous, as she offered insights and opinions from the home front while he traveled abroad.  When their children were grown, she boarded a schooner and sailed to Europe, where she lived the life of an ambassador’s wife, throwing parties and attending balls and concerts while maintaining a thrifty New England lifestyle. The Adams returned home to the presidency, and Abigail continued to influence politics through her writing and her conversations of John.  The two finally retired to their farm, but Abigail continued writing letters to the end of her life. Includes portraits of twelve American women influenced by Abigail Adams; author’s and illustrator’s notes; and source notes. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  It’s research project season at my schools, and with assignments on early American history and famous Massachusetts people, demand is outpacing supply.  So I’m delighted to find a new biography of Abigail Adams, particularly one that is written and illustrated so engagingly, really making Abigail come to life as a smart, courageous woman of her time.

Cons:  With research in mind, I would have liked to have seen a list of additional books and/or websites to help kids fill out Adams’ story.

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Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  A girl looks at the colors in her crayon box and in a rainbow, and realizes there’s no black in rainbows.  But her color is black, and she looks at what else is black: a feather in the snow, her best friend’s hair, her bicycle tires.  From there, she moves to the black in Black culture: Thurgood Marshall’s robe, birds in cages that sing, raisins and dreams left out in the sun to die.  Finally, she moves on to the history, family, memory, and love that are all part of her and her community. “So you see, there is no black in rainbows.  No black in green or blue.  But in my box of crayons, Black is a rainbow, too.”  Includes an author’s note; a playlist of 11 songs; two pages with further information on some of the allusions in the main text; 3 poems; a timeline of black ethnonyms (words that have been used to refer to Black people) over the course of American history; and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4 and up.

Pros:  This beautiful poem with its stunning illustrations (they reminded me of stained glass) is a deceptively simple introduction to Black culture and history.

Cons:  Most sources recommend this book for ages 4-8, but the references in the main text and the extensive back matter could make this a useful resource for any age and would be even more meaningful for older kids.

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A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Sharon Langley recounts the story of how her neighborhood amusement park slowly became desegregated thanks to nonviolent protests in July of 1963.  On the Fourth of July, groups of protesters stood outside the park holding signs and singing songs. When some members of the group tried to buy tickets, they were arrested.  After a second protest three days later, the media coverage became so intense that the owners of the park were forced to agree to let everyone in. Sharon and her family became the first African-Americans to enter the park on August 28, 1963, the first day it was open to all.  Just one month shy of her first birthday, Sharon was photographed with her father, riding the carousel. The day was memorable for another civil rights milestone: the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The carousel now stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with Sharon’s name on one of the horse’s saddles and horseshoes.  Includes two pages of additional information, photos, a timeline, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  I love how this book connects the civil rights movement to something kids will relate to: going to an amusement park.  Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper does a masterful job of portraying all the characters in the story, including the carousel horses.

Cons:  I found the first couple pages a little confusing, until I realized who Sharon was and that she was telling her own story.

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I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference by Mark Shulman, illustrated by Serge Bloch

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  Apples or oranges? Markers or crayons? Ice cream or cupcakes? Any time you make a choice, you are casting a vote.  When people vote together, the majority wins (at least theoretically, but we won’t go there). Talking to people about what you want can help them understand, and maybe they will change their minds.  It’s also a good idea to listen to others so you can make an informed decision. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to choose, so learn all you can about voting now, and exercise that right when you turn 18!  Includes additional information on voting and how the U.S. government works, as well as a list of books and online sites with additional information. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids are sure to hear a lot about voting and elections this year, and this is a great resource that explains the process in terms that even preschoolers will understand.

Cons:  Some may say the picture showing a red brick wall with a sign reading “No kids allowed!” and a blue brick wall saying “Free for kids” reflects a bit of partisan bias.

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