Book Review (Gr 1-4): The Youngest Marcher

I believe the children are our future. Sounds like a funny reference to an 80s hit song, but it’s true. I really do believe that what we teach our children now can make or break the future. Apparently Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did too.

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I had never heard of the 1963 Children’s March before reading The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.

This children’s book (Grades 1-4) tells the compelling story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, an African-American elementary school student who volunteers to go to jail in an effort to answer MLK’s call to ‘fill the jails’ in Birmingham so no more civil rights protesters could be arrested.

After the adults had failed to answer the call, Reverend James Bevel came up with the idea that children could make a difference and proposed the Children’s March. From May 2-7, 1963, between 3,000 and 4,000 children marched and were arrested. Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known marcher and was sent to juvenile hall for 7 days, during which time the jails were successfully filled, which allowed change to take place in the city of Birmingham.

This book is inspirational and really touches a nerve, for parents and children alike. Not only did young Audrey exhibit much bravery in her decision to fight for what was right, but so did her parents. I’m not sure that I would be brave enough to allow my child to do the same, even in the face of such serious injustice.

Children are powerful. And it’s very important to me that my children know that and feel that. This book highlights the power of one very brave little girl.


Book Review (High School and up): Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

A teenage hacker. A major terrorist attack in San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security clamping down on individual freedoms under the guise of ‘safety.’ This is where Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother starts. Published in 2008, it wisely presages some of the events of today, with profiling (read Muslim Ban), demand to surrender pass codes of personal devices, and the propagation of fear among the masses.

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After a bridge is blown up in San Fransisco, 17-year-old Marcus, otherwise known as “w1n5t0n,” finds himself imprisoned by the DHS as a suspected terrorist along with some of his friends. He is held for days, interrogated mercilessly, and, for all intents and purposes, tortured in an attempt to get him to cooperate.

After his release, Marcus is left angered and traumatized, but with a new sense of purpose. With his specialized knowledge of computing and hacking, he is in a unique position to overwhelm the old state with the very devices they’ve attempted to utilize to keep track of everyone. Armed with a hacked Xbox and the slogan “Never trust anyone over 25,” Marcus becomes an unwitting leader of a rebellion of young people.

Two passages stand out to me in this book. The first is a quote from the Declaration of Independence that Marcus uses during a debate in class to prove a point about the importance of activism in the U.S., showing a disconnect between the principles upon which the nation was founded and the reality of a growing authoritarian system of rule:

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

The other passage stands out as one of the most succinct explanations of sensitivity and specificity I’ve seen, emphasizing the “paradox of the false positive” when it comes to “something as stupid as build[ing] an automatic terrorism detector:”

little brother cory doctorow false positive

That is to say, if a test is 99 percent accurate and you test 1 million people for a specific condition (say, the condition of being a terrorist), you will find that 10,000 people have falsely been categorized as terrorists.

This book highlights the power that one kid has (with the help of a few enlightened adults) to affect change in a society that is being run by out-of-touch elders. In my opinion, Little Brother should be required reading for all high schoolers.


Book Review (Gr 1-4): Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down

As a parent with tons of responsibilities, how are you supposed to find the time to protest injustice while still making sure your progeny are well cared for and thriving? Well, the simple answer is that you can’t be out there on the front lines protesting day after day.

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But you can make an impact on the future by raising your children to be aware and prepared to stand up for themselves and others. There are some great books out there that can help you mold your children, at any age, into people who will make a positive change in the world.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down (appropriate for grades 1-4) is a lovely book which tells very simply the story of the four African-American college students who sat at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 to protest segregation. The book was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

Without talking down to children, this book provides an easily accessible pathway into understanding this turbulent period of history. Beginning with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must … meet hate with love,” this book tells how these four students sat “with hearts full of hope” in order to obtain the simple goal of being served “a doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side.”

The most wonderful thing about this book, in my opinion, is that it shows how a social movement can grow from a few people to many. Four people sitting at a lunch counter had an effect that was seen across the country. And the goal was simply to be treated as a human being. Something every young child can relate to.

Idealistic in theme, the book also bravely addresses the contretemps the protesters had to deal with: people throwing food and pouring hot coffee on them, yelling at and calling them names. (These pages disturbed my 7-year-old daughter, but only to affect her recognition of how brave these protesters really were.)

Sit-In is a great children’s book that leaves its readers full of hope for the future and a “recipe for integration” that “makes enough for all.”

Book Review (Gr 1-3): The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks

With the National Park Service being in the news lately for finding a way to tweet around President Trump’s recent gag order, and with Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) House Bill 621 (H.R.621), the recently introduced bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal lands, it was hard for me not to review the book: The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein.

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Aimed for 1st-3rd graders, this book tells the story of what, in 1903, inspired Theodore Roosevelt to protect America’s wilderness. The narrative starts off with Roosevelt in his favorite chair enjoying a book about adventures in the California mountains by naturalist John Muir. Roosevelt is surprised, at the end of the book, when Muir makes a plea to the government to help save wilderness.

Roosevelt is not only surprised, but also puzzled by this plea. So he pens a letter to Muir and asks to join him on a camping trip in Yosemite.

On the camping trip, the men enjoy the majesty and freedom of the outdoors. Muir tells Roosevelt tales of his adventures. Muir also relays the ecological history of the U.S., starting with the seas that covered the soil, through volcanos and glaciers, to the natural environment that gives us the diversity of wildlife we have today (or back in 1903).

Roosevelt sleeps the first night on “forty thick wool blankets” and Muir sleeps on a bed of twigs. By the end of the camping trip, Roosevelt also sleeps on a bed of twigs. Both men wake up exhilarated one morning after being blanketed by a spring snow storm. “Bully!” Roosevelt says to this.

Unfortunately, as Muir explains, industry is coming to take over the land in the name of profit, leaving little left for future citizens and natural inhabitants of the U.S. to enjoy. Roosevelt will not have this and enacts legislation that protects these lands forever.

This book is a great way to introduce young children to an issue of significance today. It’s a personal story of two men enjoying the great outdoors, reveling in its beauty and its importance, and doing their best to protect it from this:

Badlands tweet NPS oil

Have you and your family visited any National Parks lately?

What do you think of the bill to sell off federal lands?

Comment below.

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