WE ARE POWER How Nonviolent Activism Changed the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020.

“History is more than wars and violence.

In fact, history has often been forged through conflicts of a different sort, when huge numbers of people banded together to fight and sacrifice for their side, without ever joining a conventional army or resorting to violence. Incredible individuals—who were not politicians or generals—led these movements.”

–from the introduction of WE ARE POWER How Nonviolent Activism Changed the World

On considering classes to take in middle school or high school, had I read this introductory statement I would have jumped at the chance to take the history class that covered THIS history book. A class on striving for justice would have won out over a class on dates, battles, and wars–the feature of many high school history classes–any day of the week.

Today many, many students have experience with protest marches and rallies, and the injustices of the 21st century weigh heavily on the young.  At the time of this writing Black Lives Matter marches are occurring daily across the US and the world, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Climate Strikes and  March for Our Lives and other gun control rallies are recent enough events to continue to weigh on our minds and our hearts. In short, this is a great book to have in the world and a timely and high interest book for teens and preteens.

In WE ARE POWER How Nonviolent Activism Changed the World, Todd Hasak-Lowy presents the definition and ideology of nonviolent protest along with the history of nonviolent activism, tracing important movements in the 20th century: Gandhi’s work in South Africa and India, Alice Paul and her work with the Suffragettes in England and the US, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, César Chávez and the Farm Workers Movement, Václav Havel and the Velvet Revolution, and Greta Thunberg and the Climate Change Movement. Each account is filled with details of the work of organizing, the dangers of participating, and the power of a people united against injustice and oppressive systems. Each account is straightforward, honest, and encouraging. And for those who read the main parts of the book and are looking for more, Hasak-Lowry provides short summaries of other successful movements that readers can use to jump-start their own research.

I cannot imagine a better time for this book to come into the world. It could be used as a whole to spark lively class discussions or in parts with students focusing on a nonviolent movement of their choice to read and learn about or even read individually by students who are already involved in changing the world. Students, teachers, and others who read this book are sure to learn about and be inspired by the stories of the nonviolent activists who have made positive changes to the modern world. I can’t recommend WE ARE POWER more highly. I hope it will fuel many to work toward a better future for all of humankind.

Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry

St. Martin’s Press, 2016.adnans-story

During his senior year in high school, Adnan Syed, an honors magnet program student and EMT with hopes to become a doctor was arrested for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Evidence was circumstantial at best and terribly thin. Nevertheless, Adnan was found guilty and sentenced to life plus thirty years. This compelling account, written by family friend Rabia Chaudry, fills in many of the gaps left by popular podcasts about the case, namely Serial and Undisclosed.

Though this book is marketed to adult audiences, I’m including it here because many students are exposed to Serial in the classroom. I imagine that, like me, many of the students who listened to Serial would crave even more details. So many of the people involved as witnesses were simply ordinary teenagers in suburban Baltimore, and events centered around typical teenage activities and the high school that Adnan and Hae attended.

I came to this book after listening to both Serial and Undisclosed, so I feel like I must qualify this review. I loved the narrative here, Chaudry’s descriptions of the Muslim community in Baltimore, her inside scoop not only on Adnan, but also his family. I did know a lot about the case before reading this, so I might have missed holes in this narrative–certainly there are far too many details to this story to include in one book.

I spent a week eagerly reading this in my spare time. It’s a compelling story, a satisfying read, and a sobering account of our justice systems and prisons. This would be a great addition to a classroom or school library for students who are captivated by the story and want to learn more. I recommend it highly.

DNA Detective by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Lil Crump

Annick Press, 2015.

A middle-grade nonfiction book, DNA Detective tells the fascinating story of how scientists unraveled the mystery of DNA over the years. The text moves chronologically and from scientist to scientist as they advance the theories of how humans, animals, plants, and cells are created. The story is presented in a way that is both clear and interesting.

With such a complex scientific topic, I expected to find this book either hard going or far too simplistic for middle graders, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Tanya Lloyd Kyi laid out the stories and the science in a very engaging and understandable manner. I think kids interested in science would be very interested to read this book.

My largest problem with the book was that once introduced, the scientists were called only by first names. I don’t blame the author or publisher for this–I think it is the current convention for children’s books–but this middle-aged reader had trouble keeping track of Charles and Gregor and would have had an easier time with Darwin and Mendel.

This book would make a great addition to classroom, school, and public libraries and a great gift for inquisitive kids.

I read DNA Detective as a digital advance reader copy courtesy of  Annick Press and NetGalley.

The Queen’s Shadow: A story about how animals see by Cybele Young

The Queen's Shadow Kids Can Press, 2015.

The queen has lost her shadow, and all the animals at the ball are suspect. How will their unique ways of seeing help Mantis Shrimp, the royal detective, solve the mystery of who stole the queen’s shadow?

Cybele Young’s detailed but whimsical illustrations and engaging story present the mystery as a way to explore how different creatures see. From a goat’s blind spot to the depth perception of a chameleon, the guests at the queen’s ball all have different ways of seeing the world. As each suspect is accused, we see through the illustrations how that suspect sees the room. Detailed sidebars explain how each animal’s eyesight works.

End matter provides even more science information. One endnote explains in detail how human vision works, another gives more information about the animals featured in the text. A glossary page gives detailed definitions of terms used in the text.

The Queen’s Shadow is a creative and engaging treatment of an interesting subject. This would be a wonderful book to introduce to students who are particularly interested in science or animals. It would also be great to use in coordination with the Next Generation Science Standards as there are specific standards related to eyes and vision. Though this is a picture book, it is geared toward older elementary and middle school readers.

I read this book as an electronic Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Kids Can Press and NetGalley.