Book Reviews: Five Books About Resistance


Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
Written by Kathleen Krull • Illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Cesar Chavez grew up on his family’s ranch in Arizona. He was shy and often teased at school. When he was ten, a terrible drought choked the life out of Arizona’s crops and his family was forced give up their home and move to California as migrant farm workers. This is the remarkable story of Cesar Chavez’s fight for the rights and lives of migrant farm workers. It is the story of one of the great civil rights leaders of our nation.

Reasons I love it:

  1. Incredible historical details are packed into a story told in beautiful, lyrical writing. The story is told in an engaging and moving way that invites readers into the heartfelt emotions and strength of the farm workers’ struggle.
  2. It depicts both the influence of one man with a voice and the power harnessed in a community united in action. It illustrates the power of non-violent protest and the ability people have to fight against those perpetuating injustice.
  3. This story depicts the challenges faced along the movement’s way; it doesn’t paint an overly simplified, rosy illustration of protest. From early doubts to farm company violence, police barricades, blistered feet and unsheltered nights, it shows the struggle – and the courage – that defined the movement.
  4. Yuyi Morales’ illustrations are beautiful (can you tell I’m a huge fan?). She traveled the route of his 1965 march and visited fields where he lived and worked as research for this book. The bold and vivid imagery convey the beauty, sacrifice and strength of Chavez’ life.

One Wish: Though a biography of Cesar Chavez, it would have been powerful to include, even briefly, mention of Dolores Huerta (see below) and Larry Itliong, the leader of Filipino farmworkers who were the first to walk out of the vineyards and who eventually joined forces with Chavez to form the United Farmworkers. They are lesser known – and even forgotten forces behind the farmworkers’ struggle.

Side By Side/ Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/ La Historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez
Written by Monica Brown • Illustrated by Jose Cepeda

Thousands of farmworkers slaved each day to harvest the food that would feed people all over the country. But, when they returned home at night, they could barely feed their own families. When Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez met and joined forces, they motivated workers to unite and fight for their rights. Together, they changed history and inspired millions.

Reasons I love it:

  1. This book is bilingual! The entire story is written in both Spanish and English. It is an empowering way for young people to read their own stories, or to learn the stories and language of others.
  2. It depicts the lives of Dolores and Cesar in parallel on separate pages, until they meet and their stories unite. By putting Dolores’ story on the left-hand pages, and by including her name first in the title, the author makes it clear that Dolores Huerta was an integral figure in this civil rights movement. This addresses the imbalance with which she is portrayed (or not!) in our history lessons.
  3. It shows the power of a united partnership and a non-violent protest for human rights. It is an reminder of our ability to fight for change.
  4. The artwork is bold and colorful. It has a slight cartoon-ish flavor blended with deep soulfulness. It contrasts Huerta and Chavez’ personalities well.
  5. The afterword – in both languages – provides more detailed information about the farm workers’ movement and the lives of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez.

One Wish: This book feels like it oversimplifies the struggle by focusing predominantly on the victories. I don’t think we need to sugarcoat history for children; they can learn from the struggles of the past. Especially if they will grow up fighting the battles of their time.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Written by illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

Ten years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents fought to end school segregation in California. An educated American-citizen, Mendez and her siblings were denied enrollment in a “Whites only” school, while her paler-skinned cousins were allowed to attend. Her family’s court battles for their educational rights paved the way to end school segregation nationwide.

Reasons I love it:

  1. It brings the little known story of the Mendez family to light in a powerful narrated and illustrated format. It broadens the narrative beyond Black-White segregation; Native peoples, Asian-Americans, Latinxs and more were also subject to dehumanizing segregation in our nation’s history. Their battles paved the way for the ones we’ve heard of (though, we don’t learn enough about any of them!).
  2. It demonstrates the our ability to fight for rights through the court system. Though this process of change is slow, it represents a shift in public opinion. It also underscores the importance of equity-minded justices at all levels of the judicial system.
  3. Tonatiuh includes many details from his extensive research throughout the story; his research is detailed in the back.
  4. The author’s note at the back details not only the Mendez family’s impact on history, but also the relevance of this story today when our schools remain inexcusably segregated an unequal. How much have we really succeeded in desegregating schools and providing an equal education for all? We have more work to do.
  5. Tonatiuh’s illustrations are heavily influenced by Mexican styles. His art is an attempt to keep ancient art alive. This signature style blended with modern digital techniques add a timeless quality to the story (see point 4!)

One Wish: The story includes a list of organizations like United Latin American Citizens, the NAACP, the Japanese American Citizens League and the American Jewish Congress that eventually supported the Mendez family’s battle. It would have been nice to gain a better historical understanding of the reasons these groups supported the cause. Even a simple nod to the fact that they were all fighting similar battles of their own would have helped expand our understanding more.

We March
Written by illustrated by Shane W. Evans

On August 28, 1963 over 250,000 people gathered in the nation’s capital to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic, “I Have a Dream” speech. Told in strikingly simple yet powerful language, this book conveys the experience of that day in words even the youngest children will understand.

Reasons I love it:

  1. In just 61 words, this expressive book conveys deep emotions and a growing a sense of strength, unity and hope. It reads like poetry. It is a simple, yet powerful introduction to this historic event.
  2. Without explicitly talking about protest, this book demonstrates the power of standing up together against injustice and for freedom. It is a perfect way to teach this concept to young kids.
  3. The images speak as much or more than the poetic words of this book. They show emotion, values and history on every page.
  4. I love that this book is about a family marching together. It shows the power of parental influence in raising conscious kids. It shows the power of unity in a family. And, as more and more people gather, the familial feeling of love and unity seem only to expand with the group.
  5. Loved Shane Evans’ notes at the end describing the power of organized movements. His words feel particularly relevant today, “It takes people of all ages and cultural backgrounds to move a nation into a new era of freedom. In a sense, these marches pushed old ideas out of the way and moved new ideas forward. History shows that where there is change, there will often be resistance to change. However, these events demonstrate that through action and determination people have the power to overcome that resistance.”

One Wish: None. I’m going out to purchase this book for our home library as soon as I can!

¡Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A.
Written by Diana Cohn • Illustrated by Francisco Delgado

A bilingual historical fiction about the successful janitor’s strike in Los Angeles in 2000. Every night, Carlitos’ mom cleans skyscrapers in LA. She comes home to wave him off to school each morning before climbing into bed. One night, she tells Carlitos that her income isn’t enough to support their family so she is going on strike with the other janitors. How can Carlos support his mother as she fights for their rights?

Reasons I love it:

  1. Carlitos’ mama includes him in critical conversations that teach him about her struggles and injustice. She explains to him her low salary means she can’t spend as much time with him or cover medical costs for his abuelita. She explains that she is not paid enough for the work she does. She asks for his support and includes him in the struggle. She teaches him to act against injustice through her own life and actions.
  2. The story is as much about Carlitos’ organizing power and solidarity as it is about his mother’s. It is about the teacher who supports Carlitos’ ideas and encourages other students to join. It shows that injustice has ripple effects through a community and it shows that a community united in solidarity can win battles against oppression.
  3. The story is about a modern-day struggle against inequity and oppression. Children need to know that oppression and injustice did not end with the civil rights movement. Too many stories and history books tend to teach history this way. The struggle continues and we each have a part to play. This point is further emphasized at the end as Carlitos’ mama continues to show solidarity with workers in other industries fighting for better working conditions.
  4. This story is features Latinx characters in a diverse manner. Instead of portraying all Latinx people in the same way, it makes an effort to show the diversity within Latin-American cultures too.
  5. It’s bilingual! Written in Spanish and English, this book can reach and teach so many!
  6. The notes at the end of the story tell the story of Dolores Sánchez, one of the janitor strike organizers. It is inspiring!

One Wish: The text is a little long for my toddler. I wish I could read this book to him now! I’d recommend this for slightly older children (preschool+) because of the length.