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Social justice

Civil rights, global warming, and crime and punishment: these complex social issues receive accessible, clear treatment in four new nonfiction books for teens.

freedman_because they marchedIn Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America, Russell Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, including the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between marchers and Alabama state troopers. These events finally convinced the nation — and Congress — that something had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” The book also touches on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Freedman’s clear prose is accompanied by primary-source quotes and carefully selected photographs. (Holiday, 12–15 years)

brimner_strikeLarry Dane Brimner offers a comprehensive history of the labor movement among migrant farm workers in the southwestern United States in Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights. Brimner begins with California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century, then transitions to the story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers’ strike. The compelling narrative includes both textual and visual primary sources. Well-placed maps and photos plus brief Spanish translations of selected quotes, titles, and epigraphs are also incorporated. (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 12–15 years)

fleischman_eyes wide openPaul Fleischman’s Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines issues today’s teens a wake-up call and a challenge about the environmental crisis. The book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores the historical and sociological contexts in which those in power made the profit-driven decisions that helped get us into this mess. Fleischman writes urgently, conversationally, and inspirationally. Going straight to the issues that matter, this is a refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action, encouraging teens to think and act critically, communally, and responsibly. (Candlewick, 12–15 years)

kanefield_guiltyTeri Kanefield’s Guilty?: Crime, Punishment, and the Changing Face of Justice introduces the American criminal justice system using a series of case studies. The opening section on deciding what behavior to criminalize provides examples (such as a man taking advantage of a bank teller’s mistake) that help define the crime of theft, regardless of whether each is morally right. The second and third parts — on punishment and due process, respectively — provocatively point out the failures of our current system. Kanefield helps readers understand how notions of right and wrong change over time and across cultures, emphasizing the complexities of crime and punishment. (Houghton, 12–15 years)

From the November 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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