Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Cover image of Loretta Little Looks Back

Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780316536776)

This novel offers first-person monologues from three generations of a Black family from Mississippi. They are a sharecropper family, caught in the aftermath of slavery and the cycle of poverty that resulted. Starting in 1927, Loretta tells the story of growing up picking cotton on land her family did not own. Her loving father died from exposure to the pesticides they sprayed in the fields. He gave her sapphire socks made with his own hands and she placed her other most valuable possession inside them, a marble that glowed like the sun. Loretta found Roly left outside as an infant. He grew into a boy who had a way with plants and animals. When the family got their own plot of land, they were attacked at night by someone who brutalized their animals, killing most of them, and poisoned their land. Roly slept out in the fields, hoping to draw the poison out and return the land to fertility. Then he caught the eye of Tess, a girl who he eventually married and had a daughter with. Aggie was that daughter, a girl who would not back down, much as her father would not make a hasty decision. Aggie fought for the right to vote even when she was not old enough to. She and Loretta worked together to pass the racist voting test and then to pay the toll tax. Beaten by police, Aggie finds comfort in the sapphire socks and the glow of the marble passed down to her. Just like the others in her family, she never stopped and never gave up.

Told in three distinct voices that speak directly to the reader, this novel takes a direct look at the systemic racism that has created such privilege for some and injustice for others. The use of monologues is brilliant, as the voices come through to the reader with real clarity, each speaking from their personal experience and from history. There is a sense of theater to the entire novel, helped by the introduction to each chapter that give stage directions and offers a visualization of how this would appear on stage. Often these are haunting images, transformative and full of magical realism.

The three characters are marvelously individual, each with their own approach to life, each facing daunting challenges and each ready to take those on, though in their own way. It is telling that as each new generation entered to become the new main narrator, I felt a sense of loss as the other moved off stage, since each was such a compelling character and each had more to share. I was pleased to see they stayed as part of one another’s stories all the way to the end of the novel.

Incredible writing, important civil right history, and a brilliant cast of characters make this novel glow. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (9781368053297)

Marva gets how important voting is and how voting has been impacted by racism for decades, so she is up early to make sure she votes before school starts. Duke is up early too, keeping focused on his band’s first paying gig that night and getting his voting done too. But when Duke gets to his polling place, he can’t vote since he isn’t registered there. Marva sees this happen and the two of them go to the voting precinct that Duke should be registered at. But nothing is simple in voting or dating as their lives collide with Marva angry at her white boyfriend for deciding not to vote in the election, Marva’s celebrity cat going missing, and Duke coping with the memories of his dead brother that being with Marva brings up. Still, the two of them are a great team, traveling the city, discovering voter suppression firsthand, and still managing a touch of romance along the way.

Colbert has written a marvelous romantic political novel here. She demonstrates clearly for teen readers that voter suppression in the black community is still active and can impact them as voters at any time. From long lines to closed polls to running out of ballots, each incident underlines how civil rights are being infringed. Wisely Colbert allows that to be significant in the story line but also fills in with an engaging new romance between two people who may approach politics differently but deeply believe in the same things.

The two main characters are completely delightful. Marva is driven and full of passion for fighting back, voting and activism. Duke has lost a brother to gun violence, a brother who was a community activist. Wonderfully, Duke is not dismissive of Marva’s passion, instead he marvels at it, showing his own dedication to voting and also to his music as the day continues. The pair together are magic with their snappy conversation, teasing and humor.

Political and romantic, this book is also a clarion call to vote and get involved. Appropriate for ages 15-19.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (InfoSoup)

This nonfiction picture book looks at all of the women critical to the suffrage movement in the United States. From Abigail Adam’s plea in 1776 for her husband to “remember the ladies” to Sojourner Truth’s attendance at a meeting to remind the white women of the  movement that African-American women deserved the vote too, this book looks at the many voices of the movement with a particular focus on Elizabeth Cady Stanton who started the called on women in the mid-1800’s to fight for the right to vote. It is a dynamic book that will remind young readers that the right of women to vote in our country only happened in 1920.

Rappaport captures the tremendous tenacity that it took for women to fight actively for the right to vote for nearly 75 years. Moving in a vibrant way from one historical figure to another, Rappaport highlights not just those who were suffragists but also women who broke female stereotypes by becoming doctors and starting schools where women learned the same subjects men did. This global look at the movement demonstrates the number of ways it took to get changes made that would allow women to voice their own opinions through elections.

The illustrations have a humorous quality to them with near-caricatures of each of the women. There is a feel of a political cartoon to them which is particularly appealing given the subject matter. Their bright colors also help show the passion of the women and their drive to make change.

A great addition to public libraries, this book offers a neat package showing the full history for women’s right to vote. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillians Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (InfoSoup)

This picture book celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lillian is a 100-year-old African-American woman who has lived through all of the problems with African Americans voting in the United States. As she climbs the steep hill to her polling place, she remembers all of the steps that led from slavery to being able to openly vote today. She thinks about her great-grandfather who labored as a slave but also lived to see the Civil War come and allow him to vote for the first time.  She remembers her grandfather being charged a poll tax and her uncle being asked unanswerable questions before would be allowed to vote. She remembers running from an angry mob of neighbors who didn’t want women voting. She will never forget the cross burning in their yard. She remembers the people who fought for civil rights, who died for civil rights, who marched for everyone’s rights. She climbs that hill, slowly and steadily, until she reaches her polling place where she can vote without fear of being attacked or turned away.

Winter’s prose is musical and passionate. He draws us all close together and then speaks to us of history and voting and America. He tells us of shameful things that must not be forgotten, of heroes who fell and those who were able to keep marching. He tells us all of our duty in subtle ways that are stirring and moving; that we must vote each and every time, even when it is difficult or there is a steep hill to climb. Winter tells a personal story of voting history in the United States, giving us rich robust story telling rather than dry facts. It is a stirring and noteworthy tale.

Evans’ illustrations are superb. His fine lined illustrations show the determination of Lillian, the horrors of slavery, the dangers of voting, and the courage of many to make changes for the better. His pages swirl with color and texture, fill with sunlight, and dazzle with blue sky. The golden page of the cross burning is disturbing in its vividness, the wash of gold not allowing anywhere to hide.

A gorgeous story accompanied by equally lovely illustrations, this historical picture book is one that should be embraced by elementary teachers during any national election. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Review: Vote for Me by Ben Clanton

vote for me

Vote for Me by Ben Clanton

This picture-book look at the campaigning process takes young readers through a comical look at politics.  The donkey and elephant represent Democrats and Republicans only superficially.  They make no claims that match the party platforms at all.  Instead, it is about how cute elephant is, whether you will accept candy or peanuts as a bribe for your vote, and lots of grandstanding.  Soon the two are completely at odds with one another and slinging actual mud along with their bitter words.  The insults they use are harsh but humorous, just right for the picture book crowd.  Soon both of them have said things they regret and they agree to get along.  But it just might be too late for either of them to win the election!

This book is not an in-depth look at voting or politics.  Instead Clanton has created a light-hearted look at arguments and fighting through the lens of an election.  Adults will enjoy the clear ties to modern American elections while children will be engaged by the humor. 

The illustrations have a great vintage feel with a modern edge.  The pages are dappled like old paper that has just begun to mildew.  The two characters show lots of emotion throughout the book and it is clearly conveyed by their body language and facial expressions.

A chance to laugh a bit at the cantankerous campaign ahead of us, this book would work for discussions about arguments as well as a light-hearted look at elections.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.