Upsetting the Apple Cart | Focus On

This inspiring roundup shines a light on rebels, whistle-blowers, and rabble-rousers throughout our history.

1612-focuson_appleBooks for young people are filled with rebels. One only has to look as far as the next dystopian novel to recognize the appeal of challenging a corrupt government, of standing up for the downtrodden, of being heard! Injustices large and small resonate with children. The battle cry on many an elementary playground, or high school classroom for that matter, is “No fair!” In a world that can be overwhelming, where young people have a hard time finding their voice and knowing how to use it, stories of real-life (and fictional) people taking action and making changes are inspiring and edifying—they offer advice from the sidelines and show how it’s done.

Environmentalists, musicians, civil rights leaders, athletes—role models come from all walks of life. Some see an injustice, find their voice, and do something about it; others simply let their passions lead the way. Some are loud and upfront, while others quietly stand their ground from the rank and file. Some are children with a message of “No fair!” and many are adults who have been fighting all their lives. But what brings them all together is their passion and their belief in doing the right thing. Let the titles listed here serve as inspiration to the young people in our classrooms and libraries who will someday lead the world.

1612-focuson_cvs1Elementary Grades

GOODMAN, Susan E. The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial. illus. by E.B. Lewis. Bloomsbury. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802737397; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780802737410. Gr 1-4–When young Sarah Roberts was forced to leave a Boston school because of the color of her skin, her family launched a fight that went before the Supreme Court. Heard 100 years before Brown v. Board of Education, their case was the first step in a long process. Lewis’s signature artwork adds beauty and complexity. LAWLOR, Laurie. Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World. illus. by Laura Beingessner. Holiday House. 2012. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823423705. Gr 1-3–Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring altered the world’s view on the use of chemicals in agriculture and sparked wholesale change in the government regulation of pesticides. Her passion and courage in the face of unimaginable animosity make her a whistle-blower of the first order. Thoughtful prose and gorgeous illustrations create a beautiful portrait of the woman and her work. NELSON, Vaunda Micheaux. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Lerner. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780761339434. Gr 2-5–The work of Lewis Micheaux, owner of the African National Memorial Bookstore (or what he called “The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda”), is chronicled in this fictionalized picture book biography, an elementary companion to No Crystal Stair (Carolrhoda, 2012). The bold colors and broad strokes of the paintings will appeal to young readers. PRÉVOT, Franck. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. illus. by Aurélia Fronty. Charlesbridge. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781580896269; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781580896276; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781607347958. Gr 2-6–The inspirational story of the Nobel Peace Prize winner whose political activism protected trees in Kenya, pushed corrupt politicians out of power and brought about a stronger democracy is shared in a lovely picture book biography. Lush paintings featuring colorful patterns complement the text beautifully, creating an engaging, accessible read. RAPPAPORT, Doreen. Elizabeth Started All the Trouble. illus. by Matt Faulkner. Disney-Hyperion. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780786851423. Gr 1-4–A brief account of how the women’s suffrage movement in the United States began, and developed momentum, is presented with expressive artwork that adds context to an informative narrative. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an outspoken advocate in the abolition and women’s rights movements and led the way for other women to take up the banner of equality. RAPPAPORT, Doreen. Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass. illus. by London Ladd. Disney/Jump at the Sun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423114383. Gr 3-5This account of Frederick Douglass’s escape from slavery, his subsequent work on the Underground Railroad, and his writing and speeches demonstrates how education gave him the strength and power to stand up for what was right in the face of so much hate. Provocative images are portrayed with beauty and depth in Ladd’s accompanying illustrations. TONATIUH, Duncan. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. illus. by author. ebook available. Abrams. 2014. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781419710544. Gr 1-5–In 1944, the Mendez children, American citizens all, were denied access to the local California public school because of their Mexican heritage. Tonatiuh’s illustrations convey the story of this little-known school desegregation case with a distinctive style that is a homage to traditional forms of art from Mexico. WINTER, Jeanette. Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan. illus. by author. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481422949. Gr 1-4–Winter, the master of telling difficult stories for the very young, relates the heartbreaking tales of two child heroes from Pakistan, sharing the injustices each faced and how both defied those who attempted to intimidate them. The author’s signature illustrations make these harrowing selections accessible and meaningful.

1612-focuson_cvs2Middle Grade

DUBLIN, Anne. 44 Hours or Strike! Second Story. 2015. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781927583760; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781927583777. Gr 5-8–Dublin’s fictional account of a garment workers’ strike in Toronto in 1931 tells the story of two sisters drawn into the fight against dangerous working conditions, low wages, and corrupt factory owners. Dublin highlights the harsh realities of what the women faced every day in their attempts to support families and make lives for themselves. FREEDMAN, Russell. We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler. HMH. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544223790; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780544826588. Gr 6-9–Freedman writes a compelling narrative about the resistance group founded by siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and other students. As German citizens horrified by the actions of the Nazi Party, they worked to inform the public by writing and distributing leaflets. Historical photographs are sprinkled throughout this immersive and engaging read. HOOSE, Phillip M. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club . Farrar. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780374300227; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780374302726. Gr 6 Up–Hoose’s true account shares how a group of young boys, angry at the lack of response by their countrymen after the Nazis invaded Denmark, began a methodical—and very dangerous—campaign of sabotage against the Germans, triggering some of the strongest resistance seen in Europe during World War II. Audio version available from Recorded Books. KLASS, David. Losers Take All. Farrar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374301361; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250090591; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780374301378. Gr 6-9–In this humorous novel, nonathletic students at a sports-obsessed high school chafe against the team sport requirement and start a soccer team with the goal of losing all their games. When their struggle with a tyrannical principal goes public, the movement takes on a life of its own, creating a whole new set of challenges. NOYES, Deborah. Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly. Viking. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780803740174; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780147508744; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101616871. Gr 5-8–Nellie Bly, née Elizabeth Cochrane, was a reporter at a time when many believed women incapable of a demanding career; she proved naysayers wrong by reporting on stories others were reluctant or unwilling to cover. Noyes’s account offers up a balanced view of this woman whose tenacity earned respect and occasional scorn. SCHATZ, Kate. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History…and Our Future! illus. by Miriam Klein Stahl. City Lights. 2015. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780872866836. Gr 4-8–From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston (with the Grimke sisters, Dolores Huerta, Temple Grandin, Odetta, and others in between), the 26 women introduced in this volume broke barriers, fought for human rights, and tried to make the world a better place. Each one-page entry is accompanied by a stylized black-and-white portrait. SILVEY, Anita. Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. HMH. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547330129; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780544826076. Gr 6-9–Pete Seeger believed in the power of song. He believed in the rights of the oppressed. He believed in protecting the planet. Most of all, he believed in life and the joys to be found in it. Silvey effectively describes how the singer/songwriter/activist used his music to bring people together, inform the world, and make change.

High School

BAUSUM, Ann. Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights. Viking. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670016792; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780698143753. Gr 9 Up–With compassion and fire, Bausum delivers a thoughtful and inspiring account of what sparked the Stonewall riots in New York City in the summer of 1969. The focus here is on the important players and events of the time, but a few final chapters highlight the AIDS crisis, marriage equality, and other relevant topics. Audio version available from Listening Library. BOW, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481442718; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781481442732. Gr 8 Up–In a future world, royal children are kept as hostages and used as collateral to prevent war. When teenage Elián arrives as a new captive, he challenges the fundamental beliefs that hold this brutal system together. Revolution is brewing. BRIMNER, Larry Dane. Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights. Calkins Creek. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781590789971; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781629792729. Gr 8-10–Featuring important players such as César Chávez and Larry Itliong, this is a thorough look at the 1960s farm workers’ strike in California and how it changed the treatment of migrant farm workers in the United States. Period photographs enhance the text and give readers a visual avenue of engagement with the narrative. CROWDER, Melanie. Audacity. Philomel. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399168994; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780698172579. Gr 8 Up–Written in stirring free verse, this fictionalized biography introduces Clara Lemlich, an activist in the New York City labor rights movement in the early 1900s. Working in sweatshops after fleeing the Russian pogroms, she quickly realized that the poorly treated female workers had no voice. An advocate for unionizing, she was often beaten for her efforts. RALL, Ted. Snowden. illus. by author. ebook available. Seven Stories. 2015. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781609806354. Gr 10 Up–This text-heavy graphic novel breezes through Edward Snowden’s early life to focus on the frustrations and anger he felt when he realized what the NSA was up to regarding surveillance of the American people. An engaging but not particularly unbiased view of a modern-day government whistle-blower who is simultaneously vilified and lauded for his actions. SHABAZZ, Ilyasah & Kekla Magoon. X: A Novel. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763669676; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780763690922; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9780763674250. Gr 8 Up–The formative years of Malcolm X, rabble-rouser of the first order, are re-created in a fictionalized first-person narrative based on real events. His daughter Shabazz and coauthor Magoon spin a tale filled with determination, danger, and disaffection as Malcolm Little looks to find his place in the world. Audio version available from Brilliance Publishing. SHEINKIN, Steve. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. Roaring Brook. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439528; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781596439535. Gr 8 Up–In Sheinkin’s careful hands, Ellsberg and others, including Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Robert McNamara, are fully realized characters with strengths, flaws, and motivations that grow more clear as the story unfolds. With today’s news filled with stories about privacy rights and government overreach, this brilliant work should be on everyone’s reading list. Audio version available from Listening Library. SPOTSWOOD, Jessica, ed. A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and Other Badass Girls. ebook available. Candlewick. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763678487. Gr 9 Up–Fictional tales of powerful young women are told by some of today’s best YA authors. Universal themes of resilience, bravery, and love are explored in stories that span more than 200 years of North American history, showcasing young girls who become independent women with something to say. Audio version available from Brilliance Publishing.

Jody Kopple is a librarian at Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA.

Websites, Inc. (Accessed 9/22/16). Gr 7 Up –The tagline here is “The world’s platform for change.” offers the opportunity for average people to create a petition, seek out like-minded folks, and find support for their ideas. Interesting for students to peruse the various topics and see what kind of changes people are looking to make. GAP: Government Accountability Project. Government Account- ability Project. Washington, DC. (Accessed 9/22/16). Gr 7 Up –As stated on the website, “The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistle-blower protection and advocacy organization.” Includes an excellent time line of U.S. whistle-blowers, from 1773 to the present; topics broken down by issue (e.g., food integrity, government, environment), and other resources worth exploring with students.

Whistleblowing in the Public Sector. /rCyc305WvWZ. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Santa Clara University, CA. (Accessed 9/22/16).

Gr 9 Up –Prepared by Senior Fellow Judy Nadler and Communications Director Miriam Schulman, this well-written resource offers a quick and concise definition of whistle-blowing, makes connections between whistle-blowing and ethics, and asks some intriguing questions for students to think about and discuss.

TED Talks

The following selection of TED talks are related to the individuals and issues highlighted in this article and intended for grades nine and up. Anas Aremeyaw Anas: How I Named, Shamed and Jailed. Filmed February 2013. (Accessed 9/22/16). A controversial journalist in Ghana, Anas Aremeyaw Anas is dedicated to exposing and rooting out corruption. With his face hidden for protection, Anas discusses his undercover stories. Be aware: this talk includes graphic images. Edward Snowden: Here’s How We Take Back the Internet. Filmed March 2014. (Accessed 9/22/16). Interviewed by Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, via telepresence robot, Edward Snowden discusses the information he released about NSA surveillance programs, the nature of online security, and the public’s right to privacy. Julian Assange: Why the World Needs WikiLeaks. Filmed July 2010. (Accessed 9/22/16). In an interview with Chris Anderson, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, talks about how the organization operates, his philosophy, and the impact of releasing documents to the public. Contains strong language and some graphic images. Trevor Timm: How Free Is Our Freedom of the Press? Filmed February 2016. (Accessed 9/22/16). Timm, the cofounder and executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, describes how critical it is to protect journalistic sources and the importance of the First Amendment as it pertains to the press. Ziauddin Yousafzai: My Daughter, Malala. Filmed March, (Accessed 9/22/16). The father of Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai talks about why his daughter’s crusade for equal educational opportunities is so important to the world.

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