Monday, March 8, 2021

Read Alouds for Social Justice: The Right to Vote and Combatting "The Big Lie"

This past Sunday was the anniversary of  "Bloody Sunday," the attack on peaceful protestors on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama that resulted in many marchers, including future Congressman John Lewis, being beaten nearly to death. Those marchers were seeking the most basic of American rights, the right to vote. Not long after Selma, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was supposed to protect everyone's right to vote. Much of that landmark legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision, and that action brought on a new round of attempts to suppress voters. The Big Lie propagated by former President Trump and his followers, asserting that the latest presidential election was rigged, has now led to 23 states again trying to limit our voting rights. 

Picture books and read alouds have an important role to play in informing children about the importance of voting, the sacrifice others have made so we can vote, and the actions we need to take to make sure that the right to vote is protected. He are some favorites.

For The Teachers March! authors Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace interviewed the Reverand F. D. Reese, a principal and teacher and a leader of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma , Alabama, along with several other teachers and their families. The interviews make for a compelling story. It is the story of a group of Black teachers who walked off their jobs on January 22, 1965 to march for the right to vote. Charley Palmer's vibrant illustrations bring the story to life.

In Lillian's Right to Vote, we get the story of an elderly woman's determination to make her voice heard. As she climbs a tall hill to her polling place, Lillian remembers the sacrifices her family made to ensure that this precious right would be hers. The book is a 50th anniversary tribute to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Author Jonah Winter uses the hill that Lillian must climb to beautifully evoke the struggles of her ancestors to reach their goal. The pictures are by Coretta Scott King Award Winner Shane W. Evans.

In So You Want to Be President, veteran non-fiction author Judith St. George and Caldecott winning illustrator , David Small, combine for this updated version of the classic picture book that helps children learn what it takes to be the president. The book shares not just the humanity of our presidents, but some of the characteristics that make each of them unique. The illustrations are laugh out loud funny.

Senator Kristin Gillibrand of New York brings us the story  of ten heroes who won women the right to vote. The book highlights not only the stories of well known women like Susan B. Anthony and  Ida B. Wells, but lesser known names like Alice Paul and Mary Church Terrell. Gillibrand demonstrates that each woman has a lesson to teach us about courage and determination. The witty illustrations are by famed New Yorker cover artist, Maira Kalman.

This biography of Ida B. Wells by one of my favorite authors for young people, Walter Dean Myers, tells the story of the remarkable career of the African American journalist, abolitionist, and feminist who led a powerful anti-lynching campaign and later became involved in the fight for women's suffrage despite the opposition of some of her white suffragist colleagues. Myers' story highlights Ida's courage and persistence, while Bonnie Chritensen's watercolors provide rich historical detail.

Our right to vote is precious. It is never too early to read and learn about how that right has been fought for and defended throughout our history. 

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