A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech

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A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech is a brand new nonfiction picture book written by Shana Corey and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. You’ve likely heard these names before. Corey is the author of numerous children’s books including multiple biography readers in the “Step Into Reading” series, Here Come the Girl Scouts!, and The Secret Subway. Christie is a decorated illustrator from Georgia; he is a four-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration, a two-time recipient of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book’s of the Year Award, and recipient of the NAACP’s Image Award and the ALA’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Award in Illustration.

If rattling off those achievements got you excited, good. You should be. A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech deserves your excitement. This fabulous new book explores the life of John F. Kennedy while also taking a closer look at America throughout the mid-twentieth century. Through the narrative of Kennedy’s life, Corey inspires readers to continuously work to create positive change in the world. As the inside of the dust jacket says, this book affirms that “each one of us, no matter who we are, have the power to make a difference.”

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“John F. Kennedy loved to read about history. But history isn’t just in books – it’s happening all around us.

And the people who make history aren’t just famous leaders or characters in stories. They’re real people, just like you.

Sometimes, they ARE you” (8).

         As a future educator, I am very pleased with Corey’s writing. She is able to communicate details about Kennedy’s life and about America in the 1940s-1960s in a way that is accessible to children. She presents the narrative in an engaging way, encouraging the reader to “take a closer look” (9). Then, she sets up the inspiring tale about a boy that “didn’t always do well in school” (9). She introduces Kennedy as the underdog and someone that reader’s want to rally behind, noting that he “wasn’t the favorite” (9). Corey keeps readers hooked with her dramatic narrative style; she jumps from significant event to significant event, providing just enough details to make the biographical narrative substantive and interesting without becoming too convoluted.

I am impressed by Corey’s ability to present complex aspects of history in such an easily accessible way. For example, to fully comprehend Kennedy’s story, it is important to understand the religious intolerance that existed in America throughout the mid-twentieth century. Many children are likely unaware that Catholics faced discrimination in America’s not-so-distant history; many young adults may even be unaware of it! (Yes – Catholics were largely distrusted. Many were fearful that the Pope would run the country if a Catholic individual was elected President.) The difference between American society in the 1960s and American society today is understandably difficult for children to comprehend. However, Corey explains the societal differences very simply, writing,

“Jack was Catholic. Many believed the country wouldn’t elect a Catholic. ‘I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,’ said Jack” (17).

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The illustrations in A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech are incredible; in my opinion, they are truly fine art. Christie’s style is not the most precise or realistic. Still, it accurately captures individuals’ characteristics and other necessary detail. I believe that the illustrations contribute a lot to the story, communicating emotion and personality. The colors seem to match the emotions being conveyed. For example, when discussing Kennedy’s service in WWII and his leadership when his ship sank, Christie uses a dark palate of blacks, blues, greys, and purples. However, when discussing Kennedy’s marriage to Jackie and his popularity among Americans, the Christie uses warm colors including shades of pink, yellow, and orange.

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This is a wonderful example of a nonfiction picture book provides an accurate and adequately comprehensive account while still being accessible to children! I appreciate that this book follow’s Kennedy’s legacy beyond his death. Corey includes the achievement of Kennedy’s space challenge in 1969 and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Connecting back to the first page, Corey ends with a call to action: “And so now it’s your turn, to choose your course, to speak up, to act, to move the world forward – to make history” (47).

There is a detailed author’s note at the end of this book. In the author’s note, Corey discusses the research she conducted when writing A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech. She also goes into more detail about some of the notable figures included in the narrative: Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruby Bridges, the Greensboro Four, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Jackie Robinson, Marian Anderson, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

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Post by Cason Close

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