The Message of the Day Is Equality for All

By Lee Littlewood

September 16, 2016 7 min read

These new books educate and inspire kids about civil rights and the importance of equality for all. It's vital for children to know about those people in history who helped forge a path for equal rights. Young people today need to understand the message that kindness to all is of utmost importance, and that they are never too young to make a difference for themselves and others.

"She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland" by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell; illustrated by Charlotta Janssen; Shadow Mountain Publishing; 64 pages; $14.99.

Written in an enticing, clear tone, Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell's "The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero" reads like an exciting fiction tale, but it is astonishingly true. Joan Trumpauer was a middle class girl from the South, who grew up sensitive to the plight of the black employees in her home and those who grew up around her in Virginia and Georgia. Though her Southern mother didn't approve, (her father was from the North and had grown up knowing equality as a priority), Joan joined the civil rights movement as a teenager and participated in many demonstrations and sit-ins. As a college student, she was involved in the freedom rides in 1961, and the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins in 1963. She met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the march on Washington, D.C. in 1963 and walked the Selma to Montgomery march in 1964.

Mulholland's thoughtful book is more personal than just lists of sit-ins and protests. Young readers ages 8 and up will find out why Joan was so involved; her "soul was rattled" when she and a childhood friend noticed a rundown black schoolhouse. Even the threat of arrest and injury didn't faze Joan.

Fascinating photographs, newspaper blurbs and personal letters bring realism to Mulholland's incredibly important book. And Charlotta Janssen's collage paintings are moving and dramatic. A timeline and an added note from Joan, in which she insists she's "as ordinary as they come," personalize the book. Joan's message is to find a problem, get some friends together, and go fix it. We can all make life better. Amen. Joan Trumpauer Mullholland is a hero in the best way.

Also available for younger children is the fully illustrated picture book edition with the same title.

"Isabella: Girl in Charge" by Jennifer Fosberry; illustrated by Mike Litwin; Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; 32 pages; $16.99.

Never more timely than now, Jennifer Fosberry's next "Isabella" book shows just how big a little girl can dream. In the story, bold, colorful, purple-haired Isabella wakes up her mother and delivers the news that she's Susanna, the first woman mayor of Kansas. When Mom tells her "eat breakfast first, Susanna," Isabella becomes Jeannette, who represents a room full of mice and tries to win the vote for doughnuts. (We learn at the end that she's Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress.) Isabella also becomes Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman U.S. governor. And she evolves on an on, all while she and her parents travel to Washington, D.C., where she announces her capital idea to become the president.

The end of the story contains historical timelines and quotes from the women depicted. My favorite is that of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman in the House of Representatives, who said, "At present, our country needs women's idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else."

With a spunky female heroine as the star, it's no wonder Fosberry's "Isabella" series is so popular. "Isabella in Charge" is a boisterous girl-power book for the ages.

"Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives, and Dreams Brought to Life" by by Ashley Bryan; Simon and Schuster; 52 pages: $17.99.

To bring personality and individual attention to people is to raise them up and make them human. Three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Ashley Bryan showcases men, women and children's poetic dreams, hopes and life stories. Though the words are imagined, Bryan was inspired by a real-life plantation owner's last will and testament that listed the worth of all of his "workers." And so, Bryan created this collection of moving narratives to honor the strong spirits of those who endured slavery.

These dreamers of freedom have names like Stephen, a builder of cattle sheds who dreams of architecture. Or Peggy, a cook who wishes to be an herbal healer and doctor. Sixteen-year-old John, a building apprentice, wants to be an artist, and 42-year-old laundress Athelia, who's for sale for $175, longs to keep teaching Little Dora songs and stories "to keep alive in (them) the will to grow in learning." All the kind faces will reiterate to readers that slaves were hardworking individuals with dreams, just like the rest of us.

Bryan's gorgeous paintings and expressive poetry bring to life a huge group of worthy people. Kudos to Ashley Bryan for letting their vast personalities live on.

"In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives" by Kenneth C. Davis; Henry Holt and Co.; 286 pages; $17.99.

This incredibly well-researched book by New York Times best-selling author Kenneth C. Davis explores the human sides of slaves held by early American presidents. From George Washington's valet, Billy Lee, to Thomas Jefferson's slave, Isaac Granger, to Paul Jennings, who was present at the burning of James Madison's White House in 1812, to two others, the five people chronicled in this story witnessed the birth of America. Their stories should be required reading for middle school and high school students, for they will then understand that our country was conceived in liberty and born on shackles.

Clearly penned and with illustrations, documents, black and white photographs and timelines, Davis' newest book is fascinating.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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