YA – The Voting Booth

Colbert, Brandy. The Voting Booth. Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-05329-7. $18.99. 293 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s election day, and Marva has been waiting for this day for her entire life. A passionate advocate for equality and democracy, her first election day is like a holiday for this high school senior in the running for valedictorian at her private prep school. Duke is less enthusiastic but is still getting up early to vote in his first election, too. His family’s passion about politics – particularly his activist brother’s who died two years ago – deems he participate in the democratic process. He knows it’s important to vote, but he’s more excited about his band’s first paying gig tonight. He learned to play drums as therapy after his brother’s death, but it turns out he’s really good at it. Marva is – of course – first in line at her polling place and casts her vote without issue. Just when she thinks she can head off to school and then relax on the couch tonight watching election results with her social media-famous cat Selma, she overhears Duke being rejected by the poll workers. Apparently he’s at the wrong polling place; he pre-registered at his dad’s address before his parents separated. Thus begins Marva and Duke’s adventure, a day exemplifying Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong does. First, Duke’s car won’t start as he tries to head to the correct polling place. Marva offers to drive him. Skipping school and driving around with a strange boy all morning probably isn’t the best idea, especially since Marva is sort-of fighting with her boyfriend of two years, but hey, this is important. Despite racism and voter suppression and parents and missing cats and an angry boyfriend and a gig Duke can’t miss, Marva and Duke can’t deny the positive thing resulting from this crazy day: that they found each other.

THOUGHTS: Another gem from award-winning author Brandy Colbert, The Voting Booth is a super cute romance that still manages to highlight serious issues. A very timely book that would pair well with another 2020 publication – Running by Natalia Sylvester – this book would serve as a fantastic independent or supplemental read in a Social Studies class discussing the voting process in America. Told in alternating points of view between Duke and Marva, so it appeals to both male and female readers. Highly recommended for all high school collections.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem. – The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History

Boxer, Elisa. The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-11049-6. $16.99. Grades 2-5.

This picture book biography tells the lesser known story of an important contributor to women’s suffrage. Since 1848, women had been lobbying for voting rights and finally in 1918, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The final step in the process was state ratification and by 1920, it all came down to one last state-Tennessee. State lawmakers there were under pressure to reject the amendment, and one woman decided to do something about it. Febb Burn was a college educated woman from Tennessee, who loved to read and study lawmaking.  She knew the vote was close, so she wrote a letter to her son Harry, who was a state lawmaker. She asked him to support the amendment and not to “keep them in doubt.” Although Harry Burn had voted no in the first round, he surprised everyone by breaking the tie with his Aye vote, thus “freeing seventeen million women from political slavery.” By using her own voice, Febb Burn helped women gain the right to vote so their voices could be heard. The back matter contains details about the letter and a timeline of the suffrage movement. The author discusses the similarities between the anti-slavery movement and women’s fight for equality. Mildenberger has created charming illustrations with a folk art quality and includes a photograph of Febb in one of them.

THOUGHTS: Since 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, this story is especially relevant. This book could be used in social studies or civics units to spark discussions about the Constitution and civil rights and would be a good read aloud during Women’s History Month. A worthwhile purchase.

324.623 Voting Rights          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Suffrage, Voting and Electoral Process
921 Biography

Elem. – I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference

Shulman, Mark. I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference. Neal Porter Books, 2020. 978-0-823-44561-5. $19. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

A great introduction to voting! Author Mark Shulman guides young readers through the process of voting, from the basic concept that voting equals making a choice, to Election Day for adult voters. He uses excellent, applicable examples (“Some choices are easy to make: Ice cream or onions? Some choices are harder: Ice cream or cupcakes?” and “Imagine you’re choosing a classroom pet…”) and stresses the importance of talking to others about their opinions. No matter the outcome, “…your vote might be the one that makes a difference.” While Shulman’s text is great, it’s really Serge Bloch’s illustrations that set the book apart. There is generally one illustration for each sentence, which sounds like a lot, but Bloch’s cartoon illustrations really help young readers see and identify with examples. Back matter consists of sections on how our government works, five easy steps for voting, information on state and local governments, and a reminder that “You Can Start Now.”

THOUGHTS: A must-have for elementary school collections looking to beef up their government/election offerings.

324.6 Election Systems           Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – History Smashers: Women’s Right to Vote

Messner, Kate. History Smashers: Women’s Right to Vote. Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-593-12035-4. 215 p. $13.99. Grades 5-8.

Messner delivers another hit with this second History Smashers book! This History Smasher book showcases the history of women’s voting rights with a combination of storytelling, comics, sidebars, and photographs from the time period. Messner delicately tackles the inequity that women faced with voting, but also addresses the difficulties of defining “women’s voting rights” – is it a right for all or just educated white women? Messner captures the struggle that spanned decades and highlights the various accomplishments of the women who played pivotal roles in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Besides the story of these valiant women’s struggles, Messner also clearly explains procedures for adding amendments as well as calculating the number of votes needed to pass at each government and state level. This novel provides a look at the lesser known battles that were fought to truly make “all men are created equal” to include women!

THOUGHTS: I truly enjoyed reading this nonfiction book and look forward to more in the series! History Smashers is written in a kid friendly manner and provides an easy to understand look into historical events. The format is enjoyable and perfect for middle grade students. A great novel to teach history and make learning about the past exciting!

324.6 Voting Rights          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – Finish the Fight!

Chambers, Veronica and The Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight! Versify, 2020. 978-0-358-40830-7. 144 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

Finish the Fight! is not your momma’s suffrage book! Preceding the introduction, eight playing card style portraits feature commonly known suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton neatly arranged into a two page spread. The page turn reveals a single sentence: “We wanted to tell more of the story” surrounded by numerous, overlapping diverse suffragette playing cards featuring previously unsung heroines and disrupting  the notion of suffrage as a stagnant piece of history. The playing cards speak volumes with bright colors, confident poses, and knowing smiles emphasizing each woman as a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Over 117 years of the Women’s Rights movement are covered beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, beyond ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and through the Equal Rights Voting Act of 1965. Brief chapters filled with accessible text for an elementary to middle grade audience introduce young readers to marginalized aspects of the suffrage movement. Readers will learn about the influence of Native American women including leaders of Haudenosaunee, Omaha, and Dakota-Sioux cultures. Another chapter explains how Juno Frankie Pierce encouraged 2,500 Black women to register for the vote allowing suffragists the numbers they needed to secure ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee. One chapter is dedicated to the nearly disastrous effects of bias within the movement while another focuses specifically on queer leaders and their fight for equality. Primary source documents including posters, photographs, historical documents, and memorabilia are digitally enhanced and positioned throughout the pages with captions. Everything about this book is visually stunning. Portraiture credit is given to eleven artists whose unique styles pay homage to each highlighted woman in preface to her chapter, stunningly capturing her style, time period, and personality. Jovita Idar,  Mexican American journalist/activist and League of Mexican woman founder, is surrounded with southwestern flora and the scales of justice. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a sixteen year old Chinese immigrant known for leading one of the biggest suffrage parades in New York history is depicted wearing a sash seated atop a white horse against a backdrop reminiscent of mid-Manhattan’s “Chinatown” neighborhood. Women with a chapter featuring her contribution to the fight include: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mary Church Terrell, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, Ida Wells-Burnett, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, and Zitkala-Sa. Dozens of others are mentioned throughout the text. The trading cards appear again in the backmatter along with succinct biographies of each featured lady.

THOUGHTS: This book is a celebration of the unsung heroines of the suffrage movement, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Finish the Fight! is quite possibly the most comprehensive, approachable, inclusive look at the radical fight to secure votes for women. Women’s history is inextricably tangled up with equality and human rights on all fronts. Rarely are the stories of those who worked in parallel to obtain rights for BIPOC and LGBTQ folx woven into history books for children. This book is a much needed addition to any elementary or middle grade library collection. Primary source material mixed with modern art and plain text opens the door to use this book in a myriad of ways for research, history, and social studies lessons.

324.6 Voting Rights          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Rather than recap stories about the famous white women who fought for women’s rights, this book tells the stories of the African American, Native American, Asian American, and queer women who have made significant contributions but are not as well known as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The book explores the history of the women’s suffrage movement including the Declaration of Sentiments, the representative democracy practiced by some Native Americans which gave women power to make choices, and how women helped states ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to ensure it became part of the US. Constitution. The activists featured include Dr. Mary Walker who is the only woman in US history to be awarded the Medal of Honor and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin who started the first newspaper by and for black women in the US. Readers will be introduced to Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, and other women who were part of the LGBTQ community and fought for women’s rights.

THOUGHTS: Readers will be pleasantly surprised by this book, especially those who have preconceived notions about the women’s suffrage movement or those who think it is boring. Give this book as a gift to a history teacher or encourage a history lover to read and learn about the revolutionary acts of women over one hundred years ago. Middle school and high school students will be inspired by many of the women featured in this book and will have a more comprehensive understanding of the women’s suffrage movement.

324.6 Women’s Suffrage     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD