Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lillian's Right To Vote - picture book review

     Every American should be having a big celebration tomorrow. You probably don't have this marked on your calendar. Go ahead and check. I'll wait . . .
     August 6, 2015 is the fifty-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. This Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits racial discrimination in voting. And every American should be proud of this historic piece of legislation. Proud because this Act is evidence of the strength of our democratic process. Evidence that EVERY American has a voice. Evidence that when our laws aren't perfect (the 15th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1870 was intended to solve racial voting discrimination)  we improve them. Our country is constantly evolving.
     So what does this have to do with children's books?
     Voting laws don't sound like exciting plot material?
     Read this book.

Title: Lillian's Right to Vote
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, 2015
Intended Age: 5-9
Themes: Civil Rights, Voting, Diversity
First Lines:  "A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It's Voting Day, she's an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name."
Synopsis: A 100-year old African-American woman recalls her ancestors' stories of discrimination and famous Civil Rights moments as she climbs a hill on her way to cast her vote.

Why I like this book: I am a big humongous fan of Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans work. When I reviewed Shane's book We March I used the word "powerful." And that's what I felt here. The steep hill Lillian climbs is literal, and metaphorical. The reader sees it and feels it and midway through the book I found myself huffing and puffing with imagined exertion, willing Lillian up the climb. The author and illustrator don't shy away from showing the horrible indignities that people suffered from slavery to Selma. Men. Women. Children. Treated as less than others. The muted sketchy-quality used to illustrate the generations past that accompany Lillian feel like present day ghostly figures reminding us not to forget. The illustrator has put Lillian in a vibrant Sunday-best coat and hat with matching high heel shoes, emphasizing the dignity and importance of her personal moment. An unforgettable book. It may be targeted for young readers but I say it is for all ages.
A master class for illustrators, my favorite spread uses the gutter to show Lillian's voting history.

During the 2008 election, I remember reading the story of the real woman, a fellow Pennsylvanian, who inspired the book. In research for this post I was sad to see that Lillian Griffin Allen passed away earlier this year at the age of 107. I hope advance reader copies were passed out in heaven.
Note to parents: the book contains one nude male figure  (the second spread) seen from the back. This slave figure in bondage is the focal point of the illustration. It is not gratuitous. The image, standing next to his wife (wearing a skirt made of burlap-gorgeous mixed-media texture) is concise and powerful.
  • Surfnetkids recommends five websites relating to the Voting Rights Act for parents and children. 
  • For older children (grades 7-12) -The National Archives - Center for Legislative Archives
  • Take your children along with you to vote.
  • Talk about democracy and why you vote. Have mock elections for everyday things - ex. vegetable to be served at dinner! Then talk about how it feels if everyone else in the family gets to vote except one person.
  • Read all of Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans books. Vote on favorites.

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

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