Be a changemaker

In addition to the Black women suffragists whom Evette Dionne spotlights in Lifting as We Climb, history is filled with people making a difference tackling important social issues by bringing awareness and/or being an activist. Here are six such nonfiction stories for middle school and teen readers.

Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights
by Karen Blumenthal
High School    Roaring Brook    373 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-62672-165-4    $19.99

Multiple legal, social, religious, and medical strands comprise the history of reproductive rights in America. Blumenthal, in her trademark straightforward journalistic style (Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, rev. 7/15; Bonnie and Clyde, rev. 1/19), creates a narrative that not only presents a comprehensible overview of the facts but also establishes the historical culture in which those facts existed. Blumenthal incorporates well-chosen case studies and numerous sidebars (each unfortunately titled a “Pregnant Pause”) — such as charts reporting the historic trend of deaths related to abortion or the changing positions of major religious groups. These reveal the misogyny (until the midpoint of the twentieth century, unmarried women could not legally buy contraceptives); racism (women of color were often sterilized without their knowledge); and classism (overwhelmingly white, financially stable women were, and are, able to get abortions) that influenced the issue of unwanted pregnancies for a century and a half. In addition, she outlines the unexpected consequences, including social pressures, mass media coverage, and death, that some women faced when trying to obtain abortions before the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, as well as the limits that have been imposed on the law since the 1973 decision. Blumenthal’s impeccable research is revealed in the extensive back matter (including documentation, a subject bibliography, a timeline, and a glossary) that completes this compelling book. BETTY CARTER

Ms. Gloria Steinem: A Life
by Winifred Conkling
Middle School, High School    Feiwel    305 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-250-24457-4    $19.99

Conkling (Radioactive!, rev. 3/16; Votes for Women!, rev. 3/18) opens this insightful biography of the feminist icon with a close call. In 1956, when she was twenty-two, Steinem called off wedding plans, feeling she wasn’t ready for “a little death” (i.e., marriage). Conkling posits: “If Steinem had chosen to marry Chotzinoff, she may never have changed the world the way she did. By breaking with traditional expectations, Steinem was able to realize her dreams and redefine what it meant to be a twentieth-century feminist.” Conkling takes readers through her subject’s upbringing in a loving but unstable household; her early career as a freelance writer and journalist; her embrace of feminism in the late 1960s (initially she had considered herself “a humanist rather than a feminist”); and her emergence as a leading voice in the second wave of American feminism. The chronological narrative highlights through-lines in Steinem’s story, including her commitment to social justice, equality, and intersectionality (long before the concept had a name). Gen Z readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for how much has changed for women during Steinem’s lifetime and how much of that change was forged by Steinem herself. Extensive back matter includes timelines of Steinem’s life and of feminism in America, a “Who’s Who” list, source notes, and a bibliography. Photographs and index not seen. KITTY FLYNN

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation
by Candy J. Cooper with Marc Aronson
Middle School, High School    Bloomsbury    243 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-5476-0232-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5476-0233-9    $13.29

Imagine: a deadly health crisis hits and the government delays, makes light of the risks, and blames the citizens and doctors instead of taking action, making residents fear for their lives and mistrust their own government. Such was [also –ed. note] the case in Flint, Michigan, in 2014, when a water crisis hit. But, as the authors carefully delineate, the disaster did not begin that year. Its roots lay in the city’s history of racism, corporate greed, and environmental plunder. The immediate crisis, though, began when a new pipeline was being built from Lake Huron to Flint and, in the meantime, the residents had to drink water from the filthy Flint River, with assurances that it would be properly treated and perfectly potable. But people began to experience skin rashes, hair loss, and upper respiratory infections and to be diagnosed with anemia, lead poisoning, and Legionnaires’ disease. The book wisely puts the citizens of Flint front and center, letting them tell their stories, while placing those stories into historical context with information about the town and river dating back to Flint’s founding in 1819. It’s a powerful tale of an “obscene failure of government,” but also democracy and a “commingling of racial, ethnic, religious, and income groups working together.” Photographs, maps, and charts support the timely account; an appended “Note from the Authors” discusses their research. DEAN SCHNEIDER

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis
by K. R. Gaddy
Middle School, High School    Dutton    294 pp.    g
1/20    978-0-5255-5541-4    $18.99

The Edelweiss Pirates were groups of German youth who protested the Nazi regime through actions ranging from simple mischief and propaganda all the way up to sabotage. Because they were generally poor — and poorly organized — they, according to Gaddy, have not been properly recognized by scholars as being part of the resistance movement. This book aims to shed light on their efforts by weaving together the stories of three young people — Gertrud, Fritz, and Jean — in and around the city of Cologne from 1932 to 1945. Over those dozen-plus years, conflicts escalate, from them pulling pranks on the Hitler Youth to their prolonged interrogation at the hands of the SS. The three teens convey their unique but shared experiences, rendering a history that is at once familiar and new. Drawing on primary sources such as memoirs, interviews, government documents, and archival photographs, Gaddy unflinchingly chronicles Germany’s harrowing and inexorable embrace of fascism and the brave young people who struggled against its tyranny. A final chapter leaps forward in time to discuss the current legacy of the Edelweiss Pirates. This book stands next to Hoose’s The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (rev. 7/15) and Freedman’s We Will Not Be Silent (rev. 5/16) as a testament to those young people who resisted the Nazis. A “Persons of Interest” list begins the book; an author’s note, source notes, bibliography, and index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth
edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Intermediate, Middle School    Crown    128 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-593-12161-0    $18.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-12162-7    $21.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-12163-4    $9.99

In the African American community, parents and caregivers engage their children in conversations aimed at helping them cope with racism and discrimination in a society that fails to respect their heritage, ethnicity, and race. This pervasively practiced ritual is called “The Talk.” The Hudsons (We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, rev. 11/18) here widen the scope to include other perspectives, including Latinx, Native American, and Asian American voices. In this honest yet inspirational and hopeful collection of seventeen works, including “letters, lists, poems, short stories, and essays” and art, thirty authors and illustrators share their experiences navigating the daunting challenges of preparing and protecting their children in a racist world. The diverse voices offer guidance on how to respond to stereotypical labeling and microaggressions, explore how and why racism exists, affirm self-worth and pride, and extol cultural identity. Each entry is illustrated with art that expands its message and theme. Accompanied by Erin K. Robinson’s Madonna-and-child-esque portrait of comfort, a poem by Nikki Grimes explores the feelings of a child who is called the n-word [NB: the word is spelled out in the text] by a friend’s father. In Tracey Baptiste’s story “Ten,” a Black mother gives her son ten pointers for surviving their routine traffic stop: “doing all of the things you need to so you can get back [home to family]”; April Harrison’s evocative double-page image of their hands in full view on the dashboard speaks to a reality of life and reiterates the relevance of the volume’s purpose. A well-conceived anthology that provides much-needed enlightenment and opportunity for both reflection and discussion. Back matter unseen. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees
by Susan Kuklin; photos by the author
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    246 pp.    g
5/20    978-0-7636-7960-6    $24.99

Hewing to a definition of refugees as “people who are forced to leave their country because they are being persecuted,” Kuklin profiles five such young adults: Fraidoon/Fred from Afghanistan; Hei Blut/Nathan from Myanmar; Nyarout from South Sudan; Shireen from Iraq; and Dieudonné from Burundi. Their common bond is Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, “one of the most successful resettlement programs in the country,” which sponsored or cared for each of these intrepid survivors. While each lengthy profile — told in the first person and illustrated with Kuklin’s full-color photographs — covers the expanse of each subject’s story, Kuklin chooses one or another stage of the journey to highlight, from the red tape Fraidoon encountered despite his work as a translator for the American forces fighting the Taliban, to the slavery endured by Shireen, a Yazidi, at the hands of ISIS. The circumstances of all five refugees were perilous and frightening; their tenacity and courage (and even humor) are salutary. An exemplary appendix of notes and resources broadens the impact of the individual accounts; the accounts themselves personalize the crisis and statistics. Index not seen. ROGER SUTTON

From the September 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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