Lynn and Cindy: We promise not to get all political here, but we WILL say that in the current political circus it is easy to understand why people throw up their hands and decide not to vote. It’s still months until the next big election day, but this issue is important. The right to vote is precious and hard-won, quite literally by blood and tears. We should never forget the sacrifices people have made to give us all this powerful right. If we don’t exercise it, we deserve the clowns that step into the main ring. To emphasize this, we have two moving picture books that beautifully convey this important message to children.
Lynn: First up is Granddaddy’s Turn: a Journey to the Ballot Box (2015) by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein. In this moving, first-person story, a young boy tells of the day his strong and kind grandfather goes to vote for the first time. The two dress in their best, walk the long way to town and stand in line. The little boy excitedly takes a picture of his grandfather as he is handed a ballot. But the next minute, a white clerk demands a literacy test, which the grandfather fails. His ballot is taken from him and torn to pieces. The little boy sees something he has never seen before — “my big strong granddaddy had tears in his eyes.”
“Don’t worry, Granddaddy. I’ll vote for you one day,” I said to him.
The story ends with the young man casting his ballot while holding the picture of his grandfather, taken that day.
I had tears in my eyes, too, while reading this simple yet dramatic story. The message—about how this important right was denied to so many for so long— is delivered subtly but strongly. James E. Ransome’s watercolor illustrations are painted in mellow, earthy colors that warm each page and emphasize the patient dignity of this man who never got his turn. This is a perfect book to use in the classroom.
Don’t tuck this away for the four-year cycle
of election-themed library displays.
Cindy: Lillian’s Right to Vote (2015), by Jonah Winter, commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Although this picture book is fictional, it is based on a real woman, Lillian Allen, from Pittsburgh, who at the age of 100 campaigned for and voted to elect the first African American president, Barack Obama.
Lillian’s story of walking the hilly neighborhoods to campaign and to reach her polling place is used as a metaphor for the long, uphill battle to secure voting rights for African Americans. As Lillian makes the walk up the hill to cast her vote, the reader walks in her footsteps through Lillian’s memories of her family members’ struggles to earn that right. From slave auctions to the 15th Amendment in 1870, from poll taxes to voting tests, from cross burnings to civil-rights marches, the journey is more than uphill, it is painful and treacherous. President Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act is monumental, but an author’s note cautions that the struggle is not over. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling to eliminate federal oversight of state elections has led to the creation of voter ID laws in some states that are affecting potential voters.
Lillian’s story is vividly portrayed in Shane W. Evans’ mixed media art. This picture book easily crosses over from the elementary set to the middle school for an introduction to the history of minority voters’ rights. Don’t tuck this away for the four-year cycle of election-themed library displays—this important history needs to be reinforced on a more frequent basis. Voting does matter. So does fighting for change. March on!