Category Archives: civil rights

Winner’s Wednesday: When Marian Sang

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the cover page of When Marian Sang

the cover page of When Marian Sang

 

When I first saw the cover of When Marian Sang, I was immediately attracted to and intrigued by the faithful and engrossed expression on the singer’s face, her eyes closed and her hands folded in front of her chest, showing a solemn engagement in her singing and inviting the readers to turn the page and see her story with music. Rendered in Sepia-toned acrylic illustrations, When Marian Sang is a beautiful  collaboration between the author Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrator Brian Selznick about the incredible story of Marian Anderson, one of the greatest singers in America and an inspiring role model of courage in a pre-Civil Rights America when people of color were not allowed to pursue a professional career in concert music. Through concise and genuine language, the inclusion of the actual lyrics from the songs that influenced Marian and thousands of audience, and the intentionally designed illustration that serves as a visual metaphor of the opera stage, the book immerses readers in the powerful voice and extraordinary music talent of Marian Anderson and presents a time of heart-wrenching social injustice in American history in a manner that is accessible to young readers, many of whom perhaps did not experience the same hardships at first hand.

Endpaper shows the opera tstage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Endpaper shows the opera stage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Right from the endpaper, the stage is set up (metaphorically, illustratively, and narratively). The stage in the illustration is the Metropolitan Opera House, which was the stage of her debut and also the ending scene of the book. With the page-turn, the curtains rise and the readers, as with the audience in the illustration, now sees a street view on stage and the young Marian sing in a fully-lit window, drawing attention from people onstage and in the audience.img_20170221_210422

Continuing the visual metaphor of the opera, the title page is visually designed as a program, with the author and illustrator named “libretto” and “staging” respectively. The verso presents a brief, poetic description of Marian’s voice as well as her life experience. The show starts now…

The Cover Page

The Title Page

One of the sparks of this book is its inclusion of the actual verses that Marian sang that had profound meaning to or symbolism of particular time periods of her life (sometimes also as a poignant commentary on the social reality that people of color faced).  For example, on the following page, when the text is talking about how Marian travels to sing for racially separated audience and the illustration shows the troubling and exasperating image of a “colored waiting room”, the verses that Marian sings are about the oppression of Israeli in Egypt, mirroring the oppressive reality that African American people were living at that time.

 

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When Marian embarks on a journey to Europe to learn singing, she feels homesick and starts singing on the ship; here, the full-spread page with sorrowful lyrics of a wandering child in the background of the boundless sea is filled with the deep connection and affection that Marian feels for her home and people, enabling readers to share her grief and uncertainty about the future.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child I long ways from home. A long ways from home. Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone A long ways from home. A long ways from home."

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
I long ways from home. A long ways from home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
A long ways from home. A long ways from home.”

 

The use of full-bleed spreads is dazzling, evocative, and integral part of the book. For example, the culminating scene when seventy-thousand people congregate in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian sing is depicted in a full-bleed spread (in a horizontal, landscape scale) to show the sheer number of people, invoking a sense of awesomeness and anticipation. The last scene, Marian’s debut at Metropolitan Opera, is also depicted in a two-page spread where Marian’s vibrant-colored clothes are in stark contrast to the sepia tone in the rest of the picture, highlighting the real excellence of her musical talent as well as the tremendous courage and perseverance she embodied.

 

People in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

the "final" debut

the “final” debut

 

Written with simple yet powerful words and illustrated in a way that faithfully captures Marian’s talent, dedication to music, and inspiration as an activist of social justice (in her own way), When Marian Sang is a brilliant, creative work that will fascinate readers of elementary grades. If I were to use this book in my class, in addition to a read-aloud and open discussion about the illustration, character traits, and themes of the book, I would also show my students actual video/audio clips of Marian’s performance to let them experience the magic and power of her voice in a different way, but just as authentic and influential as the picture book.

 

 

Posted by Shiyu Wang

I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

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I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Written by Debbie Levy

Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

I Dissent uses the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court, to tell a powerful story speaking up for what is right. The book tells Ginsburg’s story, from her humble upbringing to her numerous accomplishments as a judge, celebrating each and every disagreement that shaped her legacy. Ultimately, readers of this book learn that making a difference requires hard work and a willingness to question the status quo.

One part of the writing style that makes I Dissent both compelling and engaging is that it is told through a collection of anecdotes that help the reader to gain a sense of Ginsburg’s character. Some of the stories it tells are small – like when Ginsburg protested by writing with her left hand or was kicked out of the chorus because of her poor singing skills – while others are key events in her life – like when Ginsburg chose to go to law school, even though there were very few girls in her class. These stories help young readers to relate to the future Supreme Court justice, and see that they are never too young to take a stand.2016-12-08-19-59-493

In addition to telling Ginsburg’s story, I Dissent provides an introduction to the workings of the Supreme Court. It explains how Ginsburg became a justice, and her role in writing the opinions during cases. The book also exposes readers to an array of courtroom vocabulary – throughout her story, Ginsburg dissents, objects, resists, disapproves, and disagrees. Further, the book refers to real-life court cases that are meaningful to even the youngest readers, such as racism and discrimination. I Dissent exposes its readers to the significance of the judicial branch – a topic that may seem distant or abstract to children.2016-12-08-19-59-494

The images presented in this book are extremely powerful because of their variety. On one page, Ginsburg is shown as a kind and loving mother, and on the next, a determined justice who is unwilling to conform to societal standards. At the beginning of the book, she is illustrated as a spunky yet ordinary little girl. At the end, she takes on the posture and demeanor of a superhero, complete with word art that mirrors the style of comic books. The diversity of ways in which Ginsburg is presented is important because it shows that none of these identities are mutually exclusive. Ginsburg does not need to sacrifice her family to be successful in her career, and she does not need to be timid to be kind. Through Baddeley’s illustrations, Ginsburg is presented as a real and well-rounded individual to which any child can aspire.2016-12-08-19-59-492

I Dissent would be a perfect book for teachers to bring into their classroom, because it provides a human view of government that will engage students in a way that their textbooks may not. Teachers can also use the text to talk about relevant social issues: I Dissent illuminates issues like racism and sexism, and encourages students to think about what laws and social norms in their own lives they might disapprove of. In this way, I Dissent could accompany a powerful lesson for middle grades students that strengthens their critical and evaluative thinking skills. Finally, the book sends an important message, especially to young girls, that speaking up does not make you stubborn, bossy, or disagreeable. Rather, having the courage to disagree is necessary in making a difference.2016-12-08-19-59-491

Post by Sami Chiang

Free Fridays: Dear Malala, We Stand With You

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malala cover

In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.

malalaThe text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.

First and second page

The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.Screenshot 2015-11-19 23.47.56

As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.

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For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.

Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.

~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz

Free Fridays: The Other Side

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The Other Side, which happens to be written by none other than Jacqueline Woodson (author of Brown Girl Dreaming), portrays a rural community controlled by racial tension and segregation, where two young girls are encouraged (or essentially required) by their mothers to stay away from each other, simply because of the varying colors of their skin.

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Published in 2001, The Other Side contains many of the themes that existed in Brown Girl Dreaming: friendship, acceptance, and racism.  Woodson does a beautiful job of capturing the way racism may look to a young and innocent child with a big heart, confused as to why the color of someone’s skin should determine who they can befriend.

The watercolor illustrations in this book were created by E.B. Lewis, an individual who has illustrated numerous picture books about race.  The illustrations in The Other Side are so memorable; each page includes a large, detailed painting, realistic enough that a reader might mistake them for photographs. Each illustration helps to advance the text by portraying the main character’s warm heart through the use of soft colors and facial expressions.

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This book, in terms of both writing and illustrations, gets an A+ in my book!

-Alyssa Janco