March: Book One

March Book OneMarch: Book One. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. 128 pages. Recommended for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781603093002.

March: Book One is a partial autobiography in graphic form of Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was 23 when he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.  March: Book One addresses Lewis’s childhood in rural Alabama and his time as a college student in Nashville, Tennessee.

The book starts on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and then switches to the morning of President Obama’s inauguration, when a woman and her two sons show up in Lewis’s office. The mother didn’t expect Lewis to be there. She simply wanted her son’s to see how far society had come from the 1950s and 1960s to a time when Lewis could hold congressional office and Barack Obama could be inaugurated as president. Lewis welcomes the visitors into his office and proceeds to tell the young boys about his life. The boys’ questions partially guide his reminiscences. The book switches back and forth between those reminiscences and January 20, 2009.

Lewis tells the boys that he was responsible for the family’s chickens when he was young, a job he loved. But he hated killing and eating the chickens, perhaps a foreshadowing of his later recognition of the importance of nonviolence in the civil rights movement.

Lewis talks about his fascination with Dr. Martin Luther King’s “social gospel.” Nonviolence was a primary tenant of that gospel. Jim Lawson, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was another early influence in the direction of nonviolence.

The events of the movement to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville where Lewis attended college are detailed in a fast-paced and exciting way. Towards the end of the book, Lewis speaks of his frustration with the “traditional black leadership structure,” including people such as Thurgood Marshall and organizations such as the NAACP. Lewis himself was active in founding SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where Lawson was the keynote speaker.

This is the first graphic book I’ve read. I found that the drawings add emotion. As I sat down to read this book, I wished I had chosen another book. It seems I’ve read a number of books recently that talk about the Jim Crow South. Once I started reading, though, I realized this is a unique story of the Jim Crow South: this is John Lewis’s story. It’s tense and it’s exciting and I learned things I never knew before. I’m eager to read the next two installments in this three book autobiography.

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Good Comics For Kids
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Publishers Weekly


Climbing the Stairs

CLIMBINGtheSTAIRS_FINAL.inddClimbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman. SPEAK (an imprint of the Penguin Group), 2010. Originally published by Putnam, 2008. 272 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 12 and older. ISBN: 9780142414903.

Vidya is a 15-year-old living with her parents, her older brother and her dog in Bombay (now called Mumbai) in 1941. They are part of the Brahman caste, the highest caste in India. However, Vidya’s mother and father don’t believe in the caste system: “According to appa, caste was a social evil, not a Hindu belief.” Vidya’s father, a physician, spends part of his time caring for those who have been injured in the nonviolent protests against the British colonization of India. The family is aligned with Gandhi as he tries, through nonviolent means, to bring about Indian independence from the British. A terrible tragedy occurs and Vidya’s family is forced to go and live with her father’s extended family. The family is a traditional Brahman family. The men and women live separately, only seeing each other when the women serve the men meals. Vidya has no intention of marrying before she’s ready. She longs for a college education. But in her grandfather’s household, it’s much more important for a woman to marry than to become educated. Vidya becomes afraid that she will be subjected to an arranged marriage long before she’s ready. Her feelings about nonviolence and the British are put to the test when her brother, very worried about the possibility of Japanese incursions into India, signs up to join the British Army.

I found the contrast between the political and social beliefs of Vidya’s nuclear family and the beliefs of those in her grandfather’s house fascinating. This book is an excellent way to learn about Indian society in the 1940s. It’s also Vidya’s story, the story of a young girl who intends to be her own master. She finds a way to live her own life, even if only for a few hours every day, by climbing the stairs to her grandfather’s library.

The book is rich with Hindu festivals and rituals. Vidya’s father felt differently about Hinduism than those in her grandfather’s house. But the festivals are celebrated at both houses and Vidya loves them.

I am fascinated by Indian politics, history and culture. I am so pleased to find such a good young adult book set in India.

Blog Reviews:

Bookshelves of Doom
The Children’s War
Damsels in Regress
Helen’s Book Blog
Historical Novel Society
Not Acting My Age
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Mitali’s Fire Escape

Gandhi: A March to the Sea

Gandhi A March to the SeaGandhi: A March to the Sea. Written by Alice B. McGinty. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Two Lions (an imprint of Amazon Children’s Publishing), 2013. 42 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 and over. ISBN: 9781477816448.

On the first page of this book, we learn that Gandhi thought using violence to solve problems was wrong. We also learns that Gandhi thought British rule of India was wrong.  Among other things, the British made it illegal for Indians to use seawater to make salt. The British also placed a tax on the salt they sold Indians, so the Indians were paying a premium for something that, but for the British law, they could have for free. In 1930 Gandhi began a march to the sea to break the British law and make salt.

“Gandhi: A March to the Sea” walks along with Gandhi on his 24 day, 240 mile walk to the sea to make salt. Sometimes people walk with him, sometimes he appears to walk alone. When he arrives in a village, he seeks out the Untouchables, the lowest people in the Hindu caste system. He wants to make it clear that all Indians, Hindu, Muslim and even Hindu Untouchables must work together if they are to accomplish their goal of independence from Britain. And they must work in a nonviolent way.

The illustrations in this book add a great deal to the words. Gandhi is shown in every spread. Sometimes we see his face, with eyes almost unbearably gentle and thoughtful. Sometimes we see his back, as in the spread where he is talking with a number of villagers. Sometimes we see his legs as he walks. The skies in each spread are also beautiful. At the end of the book, there’s a spread in which Gandhi is much larger than life talking with villagers. I suspect Gandhi himself would shrink away from this view. Throughout the rest of the book, we have seen Gandhi as a humble man.

The last two pages of the book give a background of the Salt March and the subsequent 17 year long quest for freedom from Britain.

Although this book touches on only one incident in Gandhi’s life, it gives a sense of how he approached civil disobedience, nonviolence, and inclusiveness. In this way, it is as thorough as a biography.

Blog Reviews: Candace’s Book Blog; Kid Lit Frenzy; Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers; Waking Brain Cells

This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads.

Nonfiction Monday

What Was The Boston Tea Party?

What Was The Boston Tea PartyWhat Was the Boston Tea Party? Written by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Lauren Mortimer. Cover illustration by James Bennett. Grosset & Dunlap, An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8-12.  ISBN: 9780448462882.

I learned about the Boston Tea Party in elementary school many years ago. Now I only remember that a bunch of people in Boston got mad at the British and dumped a lot of tea in the Boston harbor.

In “What Was the Boston Tea Party?” one can almost hear the drumbeat of events starting at the end of the French and Indian War and leading to the Boston Tea Party. To begin with, the British, who had never levied direct taxes against the colonists, demanded the colonists pay for the French and Indian war and levied the Stamp Tax to collect payment. As soon as the Stamp Tax ended, due to universal protest among the colonists, the Townshend Acts passed. In order to keep the colonists in line, British troops were sent to Boston. However, this only enraged the colonists further.  British troops had previously only been used to protect the colonists, not police them. One event like this followed another. Kathleen Krull makes clear, by marching through each of these events, that the Boston Tea Party was inevitable. And the Boston Tea Party was, she says “one of the most powerful protests ever, rocking the world and in time leading to the birth of a whole new country.”

I thought the Boston Tea Party was a chaotic event. Not so! It was very well planned and well-orchestrated and it was quiet. It was also a nonviolent event and is thus significant to the nonviolent political movements that followed.

The book spends a bit of time after the Boston Tea Party explaining the events between the tea party, in 1773, and the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775.

In the middle of the book there are 16 pages of photographs and photos of paintings including portraits of leaders of the Revolutionary War and pictures that record well known events such as an engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre.

The illustrations are pen and ink with details that add to the story.

In the back of the book there is a timeline of the Boston Tea Party as well as a timeline of the world. There is a bibliography which includes both books and websites. Unfortunately, there is no index.

I am so glad to know the context of the Boston Tea Party. It enhances my appreciation of the generation of Americans that included our founding fathers.

 Nonfiction Monday

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909

Brave GirlBrave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909.  Written by Michelle Markel.  Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Balzar and Bray, 2013.  32 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 4 to 8.  ISBN: 9780061804427.

Clara Lemlich and her family arrived in this country in the early part of the 20th century. She came with a strong sense of right and wrong. Once here, she found that she’d need to go to work making women’s clothing in order to earn money to support her family.  However, the conditions in the garment industry factories were poor. Clara knew it was wrong to treat people as the women in the garment industry were being treated. She actively encouraged her friends to strike. It soon became clear, however, that a strike here and strike there wasn’t going to make the garment industry take notice. It also became clear that the men involved in the garment industry weren’t going to call for a massive strike, so Clara called for one. It was the largest strike of female workers in United States history.  By the time it was over many of the company owners had agreed to allow female workers to unionize, and had given into union demands for better working conditions.

This is a wonderful story about the power of collective action. It’s also a great story about the power of an individual, in this case Clara, to rally her fellow workers to take collective action. In this way, it’s about the politics of working in this country in the early 20th century. It’s also about taking nonviolent action to do what one thinks is right even if that action isn’t legal. Clara was arrested multiple times, and I think it must have been because the action she was taking wasn’t legal. By 1935 the National Labor Relations Act made it illegal to restrict collective bargaining rights in the private sector, but in 1909 there may have been laws against striking and marching as Clara and the other women were doing.

The illustrations are a beautiful addition to the story. They include elements of sewing in clever ways. There is a striking illustration of a factory floor, showing it crammed full of people and sewing machines.

The back of the book contains more information about garment industry, and also a nice bibliography.

Clara is a great inspiration to all kids who see injustice around them and want to rectify it.

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Check out Nonfiction Monday 4/22/2013 at A Mom’s Spare Time.

I Have A Dream

I Have a Dream written by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012.  40 pages.  Recommended for all ages.  ISBN: 9780375958878.

Wow.  In 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most important speeches of the 20th century. It is entitled “I Have a Dream” and it was delivered as part of the March on Washington, a march in support of civil rights for African Americans. This book pairs the words of the last third of the speech with Kadir Nelson’s outstanding illustrations.

Nelson has won two Caldecott Honors, a Robert F. Sibert Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award.  In “I Have a Dream” he captures the power of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Nelson includes two head shots of Dr. King.  The first is paired with “I have a dream today.” The second is paired with “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.” Both show the strength and intensity of Dr. King. Nelson also paints a two-page spread of a white hand and a black hand holding each other.  It’s hard to imagine a better way to visualize the meaning of the speech.

At the end of the book the entire speech is printed. The book also comes with a CD of the entire speech. It’s remarkable to listen to the speech on the CD, notice when the book begins to pick up the words of the speech, and continue to listen to the speech while reading the words and looking at the illustrations. It makes for a very powerful experience for one who was a child during the civil rights movement.

“I Have a Dream” is an excellent tool to open new generations of children to the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  This book demonstrates that Dr. King’s power continues into the 21st century.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.  Illustrated by Yuyi Morales.  Harcourt, Inc. 2003.  48 pages.  Publisher recommends for grades 1-3. ISBN: 9780152014377.

Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona in 1927.  He lived an idyllic life there until the drought came in 1937.  His family moved to California to become migrant workers.  Chavez was appalled by the poor working conditions, very low pay, long hours without rest or access to clean drinking water or bathrooms.  In his early 20s, Chavez devoted himself to a lifelong fight for the rights of farm workers.  The fight, in Chavez view, had to be non-violent.

Nonviolence is a powerful tool in seeking political change. Chavez was strongly influenced by the work of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. Chavez convinced farm workers to use the nonviolent technique of boycotting picking grapes for one of the many grape growers in the Central Valley.  He publicized his cause by marching from Delano in the Central Valley of California to Sacramento, the capital of California. When he began, only 67 other people marched with him. By the time he arrived in Sacramento, more than 300 miles away, 10,000 people were marching with him.  In the middle of the March, the grape company gave in to the boycotting farm workers and signed a contract with them.  This was the first contract for farm workers in the United States.

The illustrations are rounded and flowing in rich, deep colors. They capture the emotions of the story, from the idyllic life in Arizona to the excitement when the marchers reached Sacramento.

The last two pages of the book are called “Author’s Note” and give some adult level background about the life and work of Cesar Chavez.

This book is listed as a biography of Cesar Chavez, but it is also a vivid story about the power of nonviolence in seeking change.