"A More Perfect Nation" | Focus On

Books about U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the social movements and court cases that have forced our nation to reexamine the "unalienable" rights afforded only to select citizens in the 18th century.

Hardly a day or news cycle goes by without some mention of our Constitution and the interpretations that swirl around it. Included in this list are books about the document and its history, including the Preamble, and the Bill of Rights, and the social movements and court cases that have forced our nation to reexamine the "unalienable" rights afforded only to select citizens only when they were penned. A few of the titles will help teachers initiate a conversation with younger students about the positive changes to our country wrought by protest and activism.

CATROW, David. We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. illus. by author. Puffin. 32p. 2005. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780142402764.
K-Gr 5–Wow! All those dry, difficult words from the Preamble to the Constitution are made easy to understand through wild, wacky, full-color art done by a well-known political cartoonist. After a foreword and a page of definitions, Catrow uses his marvelous, witty style to create a visual delight, encouraging kids to giggle and then claim ownership of the words and the basic concepts they ensure. A black-and-white dog with droopy ears (the artist's dog, Bubbs) leads three children on a camping trip. Along the way, the pup ably shows them all the ways these ideals work today. The book concludes with a sweeping landscape of fields, mountains, and a river, and the words, "for the United States of America." A winner.—Pamela K. Bomboy, Chesterfield County Public Schools

CHENEY, Lynne. We the People: The Story of Our Constitution. illus. by Greg Harlin. 40p. S. & S. 2012. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781442444225.
Gr 3-5–In clear, cogent prose, Cheney lays out the tumultuous situation of the country at the end of the Revolutionary War. She moves on to the gathering of the representatives at the convention and colorfully describes the various issues and arguments that had to be resolved before the Constitution could be written. The vocabulary is rich, and the author incorporates fascinating details about the personalities who undertook this monumental task. The text is placed on clean white space on a quarter of each spread, with a quote from one of the historical figures at the bottom. The remaining three quarters of the spread is given to Harlin's impressive artwork, described as being done in "various water media." The sweep of these realistic paintings across the pages highlights the drama of each situation, and the artist makes remarkable use of perspective, making readers feel as though they are part of the actual scene. A delight for history buffs, perfect for reports, and a good read in general, this well-researched offering should be a first purchase for most libraries.Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ

KHAN, Khizr. This Is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father.  224p. Random. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524770914.
Gr 6 Up–The most important legal document for the United States is given a comprehensive introduction by an author who has cause to truly appreciate it. Khan, a lawyer and Gold Star father, first came to national prominence as a speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In this book, he adds to his introduction and analysis of each article and amendment of the Constitution the perspective of someone who maintains a deep appreciation of the United States. He opens by looking at the structure of the U.S. government and the system of checks and balances built in by the Founding Fathers, before looking at why the Constitution was needed, and then at its parts. The full text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution then follows. Several landmark Supreme Court cases that hinged upon constitutional issues, such as Marbury v. Madison and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, are used to illustrate that the Constitution is a living document.

VERDICT This is a timely look at the structure of the U.S. government and a key addition to nonfiction collections.—Betsy Fraser, Calgary Public Library, Canada


redstarLEVINSONCynthia & Sanford Levinson. Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today. illus. by Adela Pons. 192p. Peachtree. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781561459452.
Gr 6-8–Gerrymandering. Filibusters. The Electoral College. The authors tackle these and other constitutional issues in this insightful work. The book functions differently than a straightforward explanatory text on the U.S. Constitution. Rather, the authors examine the fissures and issues that arise when it comes to the actual application of the Constitution: Why does a small state have the same power in the Senate as a state with exponentially higher population? How can certain stipulations in the Constitution deter otherwise popular legislation? The text discusses current conflicts, such as the irony of “Taxation Without Representation” in regard to Washington, DC, and Senate filibusters that kill potentially popular legislation before it can even be voted on. Historical situations are also examined, such as the Sedition Act of 1918 that barred anti-war speech during World War One. The book provides readers with a broad context of constitutional law; the text explores how various parts of the U.S. Constitution compare with individual state constitutions and other nations’ constitutions. The authors not only raise timely issues, but provide readers with options of how a seemingly obsolete stipulation can be amended. Many examples of amended laws, e.g., the repeal of Prohibition, illustrate the evolving nature of the law. At times, the authors seem to express their support of a more direct democracy. They also provide a “report card” on the Constitution’s ability to handle its objectives, such as “Form a More Perfect Union” and “Promote the General Welfare.” Pons’s helpful illustrations resemble infographics, pulling out startling facts from the text and repackaging them visually.

VERDICT Much food for thought on the application and relevance of many of the Constitution’s stipulations. Essential for class discussions, debate teams, and reports.Jeffrey Meyer, Mount Pleasant Public Library, IA

The Struggle for Civil Rights

Decades of unrest, protests, and landmark rulings have led our citizens and lawmakers to reexamine the rights of citizens regardless of color, gender, and ethnic and sexual identity. Here are a few titles that address those events and changes.

redstarATKINS, Laura & Stan Yogi. Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. illus. by Yutaka Houlette. 112p. (Fighting for Justice). bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. Heyday. 2017. Tr $18. ISBN 9781597143684.
Gr 4-8–A compelling blend of free verse, expository text, and artwork illuminates the life and times of Japanese American activist Fred Korematsu. Growing up in Oakland, the child of Japanese immigrants, Korematsu was a typical American kid, joining the Boy Scouts and dancing to big band music. Following Pearl Harbor, he refused to enter the internment camps, instead pretending to be Spanish Hawaiian. His eventual discovery resulted in imprisonment; censure from his family and fellow internees, who feared his noncooperation would make life harder for everyone; and a partnership with an ACLU lawyer. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court decided against him, deeming internment justified on grounds of national security. Korematsu lived quietly until the early 1980s, when his case was reopened due to evidence of government misconduct. This time he prevailed, paving the way for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Korematsu dedicated the rest of his life to advocating for social justice. This inspirational work hooks readers through a variety of formats, including dramatic illustrations and direct questions (“Have you ever been an ally to someone who needed help?”). Primary source documents vividly bring the period to life, while time lines and descriptions of contemporary struggles for equality by Chinese, Mexican, and African Americans, among others, offer meaningful context. An endnote provides suggestions for young people who wish to take action against injustice as well as a poignant statement from Korematsu’s daughter.

VERDICT An invaluable profile of a civil rights hero whose story deserves greater attention. Middle schoolers will take to the superb writing and original format.Laura Simeon, Open Window School Library, Bellevue, WA

redstarBAUSUM, Ann. Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. notes. photos. reprods. Viking. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670016792.
Gr 9 UpThis powerful, well-researched work examines the Stonewall riots, which took place in 1969 in New York City when members of the gay community fought back in response to a police raid on a gay bar. Bausum describes the restrictive lives that many gays and lesbians led in the 1960s and the relief—and risks—of meeting at gay bars. On June 28, 1969, when police arrived at the Stonewall Inn to make arrests, people—transvestites, drag queens, lesbians, and gay men—fought back, instead of filing quietly into police wagons. Quoting from a variety of firsthand sources (journalists, bar patrons, cops, and others), Bausum paints a vivid picture of the three nights of rioting that became the focal point for activists, some of whom had been fighting for gay and lesbian rights in a quieter way and others who found themselves suddenly drawn to the struggle. A month later, a large group of protestors rallied to speak out in Washington Square Park and marched down Christopher Street to the Stonewall Inn in what became the nation’s first gay pride march. In the following chapters, Bausum describes the growth of gay and lesbian activism, setbacks, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and issues such as gays in the military and same-sex marriage, bringing readers to the present day and expertly putting these struggles into historical context.

VERDICT An essential purchase.Nancy Silverrod, San Francisco Public Library

redstarFREEDMAN, Russell. Because They Marched: The People's Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America.  96p. Holiday House. 2016. pap. $14.95.  ISBN  9780823435685.
Gr 7 Up–This is the powerful account of the events in 1965, in Selma, AL, that influenced a larger movement to win voting rights for black citizens across the country. With reverence and honesty, Freedman brings to light the pure courage and tenacity needed to overcome the fear wrought by the physical, mental, and social reprisals that resulted from attempts to register to vote and also from decisions to stand up and be heard. A masterful combination of narrative sprinkled with historical quotes provides a succinct tale that packs a powerful punch. Performer Rodney Gardiner draws from his dramatic roots to enliven the text and its varying speakers with a near-flawless mixture of authentic voices.
VERDICT An essential purchase for collections designed for upper elementary through adult. Curse words and derogatory racial epithets are heard sparingly in quotes from historical figures.—Lisa Youngblood, Harker Heights Public Library, TX

redstarEVANS, Shane W.  We March. illus. by author.  unpaged. Roaring Brook/Macmillan. 2016. Tr  $7.99. ISBN 9781250073259.
PreS-Gr 3–It is the remarkable simplicity of this book that makes it so outstanding. The members of an African-American family rise and set off to church to pray and then take part in a march for freedom. But this is not just any march; it is the historic March on Washington in 1963. Readers follow this family as Evans's palette shifts from morning grays and blues to lighter and more hopeful hues of yellow and bright green as Dr. King delivers his magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech. The contrast between the conciseness of the writing and the grandness of the story gives the book a powerful punch. Young readers will now have a book celebrating the March on Washington that they can read, while older readers will be drawn to the beauty of this well-told and superbly rendered book. A must for every collection.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

POWELL, Patricia Hruby.  Loving vs. Virginia; A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case.  illus. by Shadra Strickland. 260p. Chronicle. 2017. Tr. $21.99. ISBN 9781452125909.
Gr 8 Up–This title, depicting the individuals and events surrounding a watershed moment in U.S. civil rights history, is immediately relevant today. In 1950s Virginia, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love and wanted to marry and raise their family where they were brought up. This was a problem: Loving was white, Jeter was considered "colored," and there was a law prohibiting interracial marriage. Still, the couple married in DC anyway, and after returning to Virginia, they served jail time. After years of separation and fighting the ruling, they connected with ACLU lawyers, and in 1967 their case was heard by the Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the previous judgment against the Lovings in a landmark ruling. Written in free verse, this docu-novel alternates perspectives between Richard and Mildred. News clippings, maps, and archival photos add immediacy and context, as do Strickland's moving illustrations, in the style of "visual journalism," which she explains in an appended note. The volume also features a time line of relevant events and an appended summary of the Lovings' lives after the case. The bibliography displays the author's extensive research, which included interviews with those who were connected to the couple, and the free-verse style personalizes the historical events, which reach directly into today's headlines. No single book can tell the whole story, of course, and this offers a rich opportunity for students and adults to discuss urgent and perennial questions: In any retelling of history, what has been left out? Is every story an open subject for every author?

VERDICT A natural addition to any school or public library. With the new film Loving and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case, there will be increased attention on the Lovings' story.—Kristin Anderson, Bloomingdale Public Library, IL

redstarTONATIUH, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation.  illus. by author.  40p. Abrams. 2014. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781250073259.
Gr 2–5–When the Mendezes moved to Westminster, CA, in 1944, third-grader Sylvia tried to enter Westminster School. However, the family was repeatedly told, "'Your children have to go to the Mexican school.' 'But why?' asked Mr. Mendez……'That is how it is done.'" In response, they formed the Parents' Association of Mexican-American Children, distributed petitions, and eventually filed a successful lawsuit that was supported by organizations ranging from the Japanese American Citizens League to the American Jewish Congress. Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later. Back matter includes a detailed author's note and photographs. The excellent bibliography cites primary sources, including court transcripts and the author's interview with Sylvia Mendez, who did attend Westminster School and grew up to earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tonatiuh's illustrations tell a modern story with figures reminiscent of the pictorial writing of the Mixtec, an indigenous people from Mexico. Here, the author deliberately connects his heritage with the prejudices of mid-20th century America. One jarring illustration of three brown children barred from a pool filled with lighter-skinned children behind a sign that reads, "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed," will remind readers of photographs from the Jim Crow South. Compare and contrast young Sylvia Mendez's experience with Robert Coles's The Story of Ruby Bridges (Scholastic, 1995) to broaden a discussion of school desegregation.—Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL

redstarWEATHERFORD, Carole Boston. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.  illus. by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763665319.
Gr 6 Up–This welcome biography brings to light one of the civil rights movement's most inspiring leaders. The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer grew up in a family of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. Forced to leave school after sixth grade, she joined the rest of her family in the fields picking cotton. Still hungry for knowledge, she found strength in the love of her family and through her Christian faith. Weatherford describes the hardships that Hamer endured. For instance, in 1961, while she was having a small tumor removed, a doctor performed a hysterectomy without her consent; at that time, Mississippi law allowed poor women to be sterilized without their knowledge. Hamer was in her 40s when young activists spoke at her church; until that point, she hadn't known that she could vote, and she volunteered to register. Though she faced threats and in 1963 was brutally beaten, she spent the rest of her life rallying others. Told in the first person from Hamer's own perspective, this lyrical text in verse emphasizes the activist's perseverance and courage, as she let her booming voice be heard. Holmes's beautiful, vibrant collage illustrations add detail and nuance, often depicting Hamer wearing yellow, which reflects her Sunflower County roots and her signature song, "This Little Light of Mine." Pair this title with Don Mitchell's The Freedom Summer Murders (Scholastic, 2014), which features a short chapter on Hamer, for a well-rounded look at this tumultuous, turbulent era.

VERDICT Hamer's heroic life story should be widely known, and this well-crafted work should find a place in most libraries.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

redstarWINTER, Jonah. Lillian's Right to Vote. illus. by Shane W. Evans. unpaged. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780385390286.
Gr 1–4–Lillian may be old, but it's Voting Day, and she's going to vote. As she climbs the hill (both metaphorical and literal) to the courthouse, she sees her family's history and the history of the fight for voting rights unfold before her, from her great-great-grandparents being sold as slaves to the three marches across Selma's famous bridge. Winter writes in a well-pitched, oral language style ("my, but that hill is steep"), and the vocabulary, sentence structure, and font make the book well-suited both for independent reading and for sharing aloud. The illustrations, though, are what truly distinguish this offering. Lillian is portrayed in resolute left-to-right motion, and her present-day, bright red dress contrasts with the faded greens, blues, and grays of the past, sometimes in a direct overlay. A bright yellow sun, which readers may recognize from Evans's illustrations in Charles R. Smith Jr.'s 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World (Roaring Brook, 2015), symbolizes hope as it travels across the sky. The story concludes on an emphatic note, with a close-up of Lillian's hand on the ballot lever. An author's note provides historical context, including information about the woman who inspired Lillian (Lillian Allen, who in 2008 at age 100 voted for Barack Obama), and ends by reminding readers that protecting voting rights is still an ongoing issue.
VERDICT A powerful historical picture book.—Jill Ratzan, I. L. Peretz Community Jewish School, Somerset, NJ

ZIMET, Susan. Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote.  160p. Viking. Jan. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780451477545.
Gr 6–8–Zimet tells the story of the women's suffrage movement in the United States beginning with the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and concluding with an epilogue about the Equal Rights Amendment. Zimet does not idolize the movement or the women involved. She reveals their complexities by discussing their marital and family choices, their racial backgrounds, their personality and generational differences, and their opinions on how efforts were to be organized. Readers will be captivated from beginning to end, in large part due to sidebars with titles such as "Know Your Radicals." Zimet deftly exposes readers to the strengths and flaws of these women, particularly the racist attitudes held by some of the white leaders. In a "Putting It in Perspective" section, Zimet highlights the racial divide surrounding voting rights, noting that universal suffrage did not occur until the 1960s; however, the suffrage struggles of Native American women are not mentioned. In addition, the word massacre is used in reference to the murder of Anne Hutchinson and her family. Zimet's position on women's rights is evident, yet her passion does not overshadow the story.

VERDICT This engaging book educates, but it is slight on the history of voting rights for women of color.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY

Additional titles of interest

FINK, Sam. The Constitution of the United States. illus by the author. 136p. Welcome. 2010. Tr $22.00. 9781599620824.

KRULL, Kathleen. A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights: Rev. ed. illus. by Anna DiVito. 2015. 230p. HarperCollins. Tr $16.99. ISBN  9780062352316

MAESTRO, Betsy and Guilio Maestro. A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution. rev. ed. 48p. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.  2008. PLB. $18.40. ISBN 978-0688101923.  

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Barbara Birenbaum

Excellent books regarding American history. For upper elementary readers, Peartree Books of Clearwater, FL is pleased to introduce you to several historical adventures for elementary readers (Gr 2-5). 1. Capture the essence of the meaning of freedom (Lady Liberty's Light, Birenbaum. isbn 9780935343113 pap/-120 hc). 2. The significance of Olympic torchbearers and the message of good sportsmanship around the world (The Olympic Glow, Birenbaum. isbn 9780935343465 pap/ -458 hc). Included in Teacher's Guide to the Olympics by ACOG and Scholastic Magazine. 3. Weather forecasters across our country their habitats, traditions and how they compare to the prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil (Groundhogs Across America, Birenbaum. isbn 9780935343441 hc). All books have received Juvenile Nonfictional awards

Posted : Jun 17, 2018 02:23



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