Fallout – Sheinkin’s Terrifying Look for Teens at How Close the World Came to Destruction

Lynn: FalloutWhere were you in October 1962? I know a whole lot of you weren’t even on this planet yet but how much do you know about how close we came to annihilating this place we call home? I was a young teen at the time, going to junior high in Belmont, MA and I remember those days quite well. I think I especially remember them because I realized my father was grimly worried, even scared. We watched the reports on the news and when I asked my dad if there would be a war, all he would do was shrug. I remember too, the sigh of relief when Russia “blinked” but I also remember an overwhelming sense of helplessness at these events that could wipe out the world and there was nothing I could do.

That is a long way of saying that if you read any historical nonfiction book this year, make sure it is Steve Sheinkin’s Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown. (Roaring Brook, 2021). Yes, it was 1962 but there are parallels here that need to be understood by all of us who inhabit this same fragile wanderer in space.

Sheinkin is a master of narrative nonfiction, of careful research, and is a compelling storyteller. He takes an event for which we know the trajectory and manages to keep readers hanging on by a thread as his chronicle unfolds. And in this book, he relates a tale as complex, convoluted, and shrouded in secrecy as anything in history. It is a tale of personal courage, thoughtful reflections, and a willingness to resist the pressures of other dominant opinions. It is equally a tale of luck, bungling, and terrible timing. I paused with awful frequency to shake my head in wonder and horror at the incredible chain of events that we call the Cuban Missile Crisis.

How close did we come to nuclear war? Closer than any of us outside of a very few people knew. There are true heroes in this story as well as reckless fools and power hungry zealots. This is a marvel of nonfiction writing. Succinct, wonderfully researched and cited, and thoughtfully recounted. It is also has the terrible fascination of watching a train wreck. If you were around then or are just now encountering the story, this book will hold you captive and maybe haunt your dreams with what could have been. As Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, said, “At the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” See if you agree.

Cindy: Besides being stellar works of nonfiction, Steve Sheinkin’s books are a booktalker’s dream. Here’s the opening paragraph of the prologue, titled: “The Paperboy.”

“The kid hiked up the dark stairwell to the sixth floor, hoping only for a decent tip, maybe fifteen cents. Busting up a Russian spy ring was an unexpected bonus.”

Read that sentence to your students and stand back, hoping you’ve purchased a lot of copies! One of the nickels the paperboy received was a hollow coin that popped open after falling on the stairs and the boy discovered a tiny piece of film inside. Hmmmm….and away we go!

Bomb by Steve SheinkinI couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and I was holding my breath in places (when I wasn’t gasping) even though I knew the outcome. What I didn’t know was many of the details and stories behind the Cold War build-up, the dangerous rescue efforts after the Berlin Wall went up, and the last hour unlucky mishaps during the Cuban Missile Crisis, any one of which could have could have been more than disastrous, but for some added good luck. Obviously, this is a natural sell to teen readers who were fascinated by Sheinkin’s earlier YA book, Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, but adults will want to read this as well.

The Power of Style – an Inclusive Guide to Fashion

Lynn:

Power of styleLynn: Most of us have grown up with the sort of fashion and style books that showed us how we SHOULD look within a very very narrow definition: thin, tall, white, shiny hair, clear-skinned and perfectly coordinated from head to toe. I gave up reading them as a teen, knowing I would never measure up. For many teens who didn’t fit that narrow mold, those guides often felt cruel and demeaning.

Christian Allaire’s Power of Style (Annick, 2021) is a fresh look at fashion. The wonderfully written book by Allaire, an Ojibwe writer who is now the Fashion and Style writer for Vogue, sets out the philosophy right from the first page.

“This book is for anyone who has never felt represented, who has felt inferior or less beautiful, and who has questioned their roots.”

While acknowledging that fashion has great power, he goes on to introduce readers to people who are using fashion and beauty to promote cultural activism, empowerment, diversity, and inclusivity. It is a powerful and inspiring message and it should be heard by all of us, young or old, and of any culture, size, or race. The book is absolutely gorgeous and inviting with outstanding photography and layout. Divided into 6 broad categories, the chapters examine Sewing Tradition, Hair, Cosplay and Size, Hijab and modest clothing design, Men’s Heels, and Makeup.

There is so much to think about and celebrate in these pages and readers will come away with a new interest and respect for what fashion and style can do for all of us. Of particular note for me was a small section on Cultural Appropriation VS. Appreciation that was respectful and extremely helpful as many of the fashions shown throughout the book are incredibly beautiful and readers may yearn to wear them. This is a book that should be on the shelves of every high school and public library. Don’t miss it!

Scipio Jones – a Hero to Meet for Our Time

race-against-timeLynn:  I have a new hero and it saddens me to say that this extraordinary person, Scipio Jones, was unknown to me before reading Sandra Neil and Rich Wallace’s latest book, Race Against Time: The Untold Story of Scipio Jones and the Battle to Save Twelve Innocent Men (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2021). Scipio Jones was a singularly courageous and inspiring man whose name should be known to every American and I hope this outstanding book helps make that a fact.

Race Against Time is a story of Scipio Jones but it is also about another buried but important event—the Elaine Massacre—and the twelve men wrongfully condemned to execution. The time was 1919. In Elaine, Arkansas, returning Black soldiers came home to find that oppression, discrimination, and fear were still the prevailing conditions. Sharecroppers, they struggled with unfair prices for their cotton and a system that looked the other way at not just inequality but at blatant terrorizing of the Black community. After risking their lives to fight for their country, many of these Black veterans refused to accept the situation and in Elaine, a union was organized to fight for fair prices. While meeting one night in a local church, carloads of white vigilantes attacked, shooting and killing more than 200 men, women, and children. During the melee, 5 white men were killed, some by their own bullets in the confusion. Almost immediately, 12 Black men were arrested for murder, tried, and convicted.

Enter Scipio Jones, who risked his life, spent five years of intensive work, and expending most of his personal wealth, desperately striving to save the twelve. Eventually the case made it to the Supreme Court and became the first time African Americans won a Supreme Court decision. As always, the Wallaces write with admirable clarity, making this complex legal story understandable for a teen audience. This is also a heart-stopping story of suspense. Fascinating and deeply relevant in our time, this is a story that should be read and remembered.

Cindy: Like Lynn, and the Wallaces before they unearthed the story while researching a later court case, I’d never heard of this courageous and brilliant lawyer or the story of this important legal battle to not only save lives, but to move justice forward for persecuted African Americans. We still have a long way to go for legal justice for all, but Scipio Jones certainly provided a push in that progress, and at great personal sacrifice and risk to his own safety.

I also don’t know as much as I should about the history of the NAACP, so it was surprising to me how little faith the leadership had in having a black lawyer represent the case that he had worked so hard to prepare. In some states, especially in the segregated south, it was also a legal mandate for a white lawyer to present the cases. Of course, in 1919, Scipio Jones couldn’t even ride in the same train car as his white colleague or sleep in the same hotel. For his own safety, after a long day in court he had to find a local family willing to host him for the night, changing his location daily for his protection, and that of the people willing to help him.

This horrifying and fascinating story also includes famed Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who visited the incarcerated men and wrote about them, and held a protest to raise funds for their defense. Jones also had a young attorney working with him on a final case against the Little Rock school district, who he was suing for equal pay for Black teachers and administrators. Scipio died before the case was finished but that young attorney, Thurgood Marshall, continued on and won the case.

Scipio Jones, born enslaved and self-taught, and his heroic and brilliant work need to be known, and honored. Start by reading this powerful book.

Chance – Uri Shulevitz’s Story of Survival and Hope

Lynn: Survival in desperate times is often a matter of chance as Uri Shulevitz says in his new book, Chance: Escape from the Holocaust (Farrar, 2020). But as in all things in life, there is much more to Shulevitz’s story. This book is a searing tale of horrifying privation but it is also about determination, love, and the start of an artistic life.

When Uri Shulevitz was only 4, the Nazis attacked Poland. Uri’s father fled into Russia and the plan was for Uri and his mother to join him later. In a brief period when the borders remained open, Uri and his mother traveled by smuggler’s truck from German-occupied Poland into Russia, joining his father in Bialystok. Escaping from the Nazis was an incredibly fortunate act but this still was the beginning of 10 years of horrifying oppression, extreme poverty, disease, and starvation. Denied employment except in labor camps, the family traveled to a settlement north of Arkangel on the Baltic Sea, east to Turkestan, and in 1945, an equally harrowing journey back to Warsaw and eventually to Paris.

Shulevitz writes for a young audience and he forges a remarkable combination of an honest picture of the reality in language and images appropriate for the audience and manages somehow to never be overly graphic. Shulevitz speaks straight to the reader and his choices of small vignettes move the story forward while also skillfully giving youngsters the tools to understand the unimaginable.

“Hunger is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it,” he writes.

He goes on to describe being so hungry that his mother made and cooked a patty of grass for him. Uri devoured every bit and then, unable to process it, he suffered intense diarrhea, having to flee to a maggot-ridden outhouse with no roof and wipe himself with stones because there was no toilet paper. Shulevitz also provides the moments that kept him going. Drawing was his lifeline and his love of the stories his mother told.

“My poor loving mother couldn’t feed my body but she did magnificently feed my mind.”

It is the masterful use of these and other brilliantly written moments that make this a book that readers will never forget. This is a truly inspiring story of deep suffering and amazing survival. It is a look inside a mind and soul who somehow came out the other side of a living hell and triumphed after all. This book is a gift to us all.

Cindy: We know Uri Shulevitz from his long, successful career authoring and illustrating award-winning picture books. Departing from this format, at age 85, he has written a memoir that will find a wide audience age range, starting with the upper elementary students who can handle the painful experiences. For the older students and adults who read this, it will be a book they won’t forget. The painful events and the sweet, simple joys that helped Uri and his family and all of those with shared experiences, are chronicled not just in words, but in Uri’s art. He started to draw at the age of three and encouraged by his parents, continued to use his art as one survival strategy. The scenes include touches of architecture and his surroundings but feature the vivid expressions of the many emotions, illnesses, and deprivations he experienced. Photographs and mementos that miraculously survived the wartime travels are included as well. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux deserve mention for giving this book the quality bookmaking that it deserves. It is a beautiful volume that will become a classic.

This past year as many have endured family loss and true hardships and others have complained about less serious deprivation like toilet paper shortages and mask-wearing, this memoir shows another time in our history in which true suffering was faced, and if you had good fortune or chance, you endured. Ingrid Roper interviewed Mr. Shulevitz for this July 17, 2020 Publisher Weekly article, and at the end, he speaks of what he hopes will help others through our current pandemic:

“My mother’s stories and drawing were a lifeline for me during that time as a refugee,” he says. “And I hope readers will seek their own lifeline now. Everyone is different, and it will be different for everyone. But finding that is critical. And if this book helps them do so, my book will be happy and so will I.”

A Classroom Gem – Dictionary for a Better World

Lynn: What words would you use to describe a better world? That is what Irene Latham and Charles Waters have done in Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z (Carolrhoda, 2020). They use words like hope, humility, and empathy as well as more unexpected words like laughter, exercise, and netiquette. The opening page shows an abecedarian style poem using all the words they’ve selected. From there, the book moves to an alphabetic dictionary using the words.

But it is not just a simple definition that the reader finds. Rather, each entry features a poem in a wide-ranging number of forms, a note that identifies the form, an inspiring quote related to the word, a personal reflection on the word by one of the authors, and a suggestion for an activity.

This is a book to be sauntered through, enjoyed, and reflected on. It is a gem for the classroom with a multitude of uses. It is thoughtful, playful, earnest, and challenging. The quotations are wonderfully selected, rich, varied, and thought-provoking and from such diverse sources as Oprah Winfrey, Hippocrates, and a glorious wealth of youth literature. It was a personal delight to find The White Darkness quoted here.

Mehrdokht Amini’s illustrations add a lively interest to each page turn. The excellent back matter includes a wonderful Authors’ Note, a list of the books, poems, and speeches referenced, additional recommendations, an index of the poetry forms used, and the authors’ Gratitude List, one of the activities suggested. The more you look at this treasure of a book, the more wealth you find. Language Arts teachers especially, don’t miss this!

It Took the World to Rescue All Thirteen – A Riveting Account

Lynn: Thai-American author Christina Soontornvat was visiting her family in Thailand not far from the Cave of the Sleeping Lady when the news broke about the trapped soccer team. She and most of us throughout the world watched with our hearts in our mouths as the 18-day rescue event dominated the news. Soontornvat, a mechanical engineer and science educator, realized after the rescue that she wanted to know more about this incredible effort and to share the story.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (Candlewick, 2020) is a masterful account—gripping, suspenseful and inspiring, and almost impossible to put down. But Soontornvat does much more than simply relate the events. She brings a wealth of background and related information that makes this book an outstanding reading experience. Without ever slowing the narrative, readers learn about the country of Thailand, its culture, religions, food, and everyday life. We learn about the geology of the cave system, climate and weather, the physical barriers facing the rescuers, and the difficult art of cave or sump diving. And especially we learn about the hundreds of people whose heroic efforts resulted in the rescue of the boys, all of whom we come to care about. It is no small feat to maintain a real sense of suspense when readers already know the outcome but this book achieves that wonderfully.

The book itself is a terrific example of great book design and production too. It is a pleasure to read with clearly laid out text, carefully managed sidebars, and beautiful color photographs.

This really is a shining example of excellent nonfiction writing. Soontornvat’s prose is clear, understandable, and immediate. The science, as is all the information, is woven into the suspenseful story seamlessly. Readers will come away with a real understanding of all the many factors that made the task and the rescue so remarkable. Soontornvat’s appreciation and admiration for the rescuers, and the Wild Boars and their coach, is clear and readers will end the book feeling the same. There is extensive and excellent back matter, as well, including a section of what happened with the team and their travels after the rescue.

Cindy: Shortly after the Wild Boars were rescued I was booktalking Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert to my middle school students. That book always circulated well after booktalks, but these students no longer had knowledge of this 2010 event. They had heard of the Thai cave soccer team rescue and I was able to tell them that the same author, Marc Aronson, was hard at work on a quick publication about this amazing rescue. Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue (Atheneum, 2019) will pair nicely with Soontornvat’s excellent book. All three of these titles highlight the cooperation between locals and people from all over the world. They celebrate how we can overcome tragedy and work together to achieve insurmountable odds. And the booktalking and the connections all worked. Both of my copies of Trapped went out that day and I had a list of students who wanted Rising Water as soon as it published. All Thirteen will be just as popular. Success stories all around!

Absolutely Everything About How We Got to the Moon

Lynn: This is a soaring triumph—stellar in every way!

John Rocco set out in How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure (Crown, 2020) to explain how every part of the Apollo/Saturn machine worked and how it was built. He especially wanted to show young readers the science and problem solving that was involved along the way. And he wanted to introduce some of the thousands of unsung people who contributed to this monumental achievement. He does all that in this fascinating, detailed, and visually magnificent chronicle.

He begins with the origins of the Space Race in 1957 and a brief history of rocketry and then plunges into the nitty-gritty of designing, building, testing, and flying to the moon with all the steps, problems, and triumphs along the way. As someone who has read many histories of this period AND lived through it, the early history was bit slow but I understand the necessity for young readers. The book becomes deeply interesting quickly in Chapter 2 with the discussion of the process of designing a rocket.

While this is a solid historical account of the Apollo effort, the focus is on the science, technology, and engineering achievements. Rocco’s prose is clear and understandable as he carefully distilled oceans of information for young readers. He does an excellent job of providing a thorough explanation without overwhelming the text. The tone is just right: informative, concise, and filled with wonderful tidbits of related topics to heighten interest even for those only generally interested in the technical details. Space food, the disgusting but imperative issue of going to the bathroom in space, the history of the “human computers,” and, something I always wondered about, what are all those people in the command center doing at all those monitors.

A wonderful feature of the book is the many sections that show some of the scientific problems faced along the way and the solution. Often these also include a simple experiment that kids can do that demonstrates the science behind the solution.

A highlight for me is the many short biographical inserts that feature some of the people involved in the effort who contributed important ideas, developments, or work along the way. So many of these people were critical to the success of the mission but received very little public attention. Rocco includes people like Ann Montgomery, an engineer, and the only woman allowed on the launchpad, Charles Draper who developed the Guidance system, or Eleanor Foraker, the Seamstress Manager for the Apollo Spacesuits.

Rocco explains in an Author’s Note in the back matter that although there are a plethora of photographs, blueprints, and drawings available, he chose to create all the illustrations himself. He did that in order to make the concepts more accessible and understandable for readers without being overwhelmed by extraneous details. He also chose to use color as most of the original photographs and visual materials are black and white. The result is visually stunning as well as being deeply absorbing.

I read this in galley with only some of the planned back matter included. The Note on the Research was extremely interesting and even in galley form the visual impact of the book is outstanding. I am eager to see it in the finished copy. This is a must purchase for every library collection and a perfect choice as a gift book for every science-loving student.

Eighty-dollar Champion

Lynn: There is nothing I like better than an uplifting underdog story and this underhorse story was a pleasure to read–especially as it is a TRUE story! In this time of soaring egos, disdain for others, and scorn for real integrity, this is a lovely tale of the quiet, humble, and hard-working immigrant whose act of kindness rewarded him and his family–AND the horse he rescued. The Eighty-Dollar Champion: The True Story of a Horse, a Man, and an Unstoppable Dream (Random/Delacorte, 2020) is a story that will lift readers’ hearts.

Harry De Leyer and his wife Johanna came to the U.S. from Holland following WWII with almost nothing in their pockets. Harry’s hard work and ability brought him to a job as a riding teacher at an exclusive girls school on Long Island. Needing a gentle lesson horse, Harry set out one winter day to attend a horse sale but arrived too late, just as the “kill buyer” was loading the rejects. One of the horses, a big undernourished grey, caught Harry’s eye and on instinct, he paid all he had, $80.00 for the horse. It was 1956 and Harry had no idea the bargain he had just made.

Snowman, under Harry’s care, prospered and became just the lesson horse he needed–gentle, patient, and loving. The girls at the school loved him as did Harry and his whole family. But no one suspected the amazing ability Snowman’s gentle nature hid. That spring, reluctantly, Harry sold Snowman to a neighbor needing a gentle horse for his young son. Snowman had other ideas. Again and again, he jumped increasingly high and challenging fences to return home to Harry. Snowman knew where he belonged and it was with the De Leyers! It was then that Harry began to discover just how skilled a jumper Snowman was and to train and enter him in horse jumping shows around the state.

Snowman had been a plow horse and even in his coddled days with Harry, he never looked like the highly bred, highly strung horses at the top of the equestrian meets. In the beginning, most people laughed at Harry and Snowman as they began competition. Steady and unflappable, Snowman began to win every competition, cheerfully jumping easily over every obstacle before him. Eventually, he went on to win two Triple Crowns in a row–something that had never been done before.

Harry and Snowman became celebrities and throughout it all remained humble and little changed by fame. Snowman continued to be a lesson horse and Harry to resist all offers to buy him.

This is a very successful abridgment of Letts’ adult book and it was a perfect joy to read. You don’t have to be a horseman or to have had experience with the sport of jumping. Letts gives us a wonderful peek at that world, with just enough of the experience and tension of the various competitions to raise suspense and heighten the pace. But she also makes readers feel as if they know Harry and Snowman and they become vivid and heartfelt characters we deeply care for. And in this dark time, it is a welcome reminder that humility and hard work have rewards, that kindness makes a difference, and that the underestimated can achieve it all. I teared up several times, especially with the book’s conclusion.

“Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us.”

Back matter includes an interview with Harry De Leyer and a conversation with the author as well as extensive source notes. Give this to kids wanting an uplifting story, engaging nonfiction, or a very unusual horse story.

The Rebels and Revolutionaries: James Rhodes Introduces Classical Music to Teens

Cindy: What I learned about classical music was mostly learned during my high school days playing flute in our small school’s band and later watching the movie Amadeus. I’m not quite serious, but almost. My middle school orchestra students are probably way ahead of me today. It’s not for lack of wanting to know more, it’s for the lack of knowing where to begin or how to approach such a large body of music of which I know so little. If it’s intimidating to me, it surely must be for a teen who may have even less interest in pursuing that interest without some inspiration. And thus, concert pianist James Rhodes to the rescue for many of us. Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound (Candlewick, 2019) is just the ticket. Packaged in the trim size to match an LP cover and stunningly illustrated by Martin O’Neill, this book will attract and convert new classical music fans.

In his introduction, Rhodes admits that classical music has a reputation of belonging to old people and about as interesting to read about as algebra. He makes a good case for why that just isn’t so. And, he also explains why this book focuses on the dead white males and makes some suggestions for composers to explore outside the “established ‘classics.'”

The book then opens with a Spotify playlist Rhodes created asking the reader to access it and listen along throughout the book. This is genius! From there we start in with each composer. When you see the double-page spread of “Bach: The Godfather,” him in short sleeves with double sleeve tattoos sporting the quote, “If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it,” you know this isn’t your grandfather’s classical music book! O’Neill’s collage work (with a zine-like feel) is stunning throughout, and will attract young artists in addition to musicians!

For instance, Rhodes answers the question, “Where to even begin with Mozart…”

You can buy the complete compositions of
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart on CD.
Or, to be precise, on 180 CDs.
ONE. HUNDRED. AND EIGHTY.

He says, “Imagine Rihanna or Coldplay releasing SIX albums a year. Every year. For thirty years. It’s ridiculous.”

Each composer gets a double-page spread called “The Facts of Life” that includes basic bio, quotes about or by the artist, musical output, tracks of contemporary artists including rock and rap that have referenced or sampled the composer’s music, and soundtracks of movies, tv, and streaming series that have used that composer’s music. The facing page is a short essay that uses humor and adoration to convey the highlights of his life and career. The following two double-page spreads each explores a composition as an introduction to a piece of music (so, two per artist) with a reminder to listen to those tracks in the playlist. Listening to the track before, during, and after reading those essays was very helpful to not only understanding the particular piece and its composer better, but it gives the non-music student some help in how to listen to all music, classical or not. I recommend this for all secondary school libraries (and music classrooms), public library collections (adult departments, too), and as a gift book for that young person beginning their own musical instrument.

Lynn: I grew up with music as part of my family life. My father loved music, especially classical and jazz and he played music every evening. Being a college professor, he was always ready to teach on any subject that interested him and my sister and I absorbed a lot of music history over the years – sometimes more than we wanted at the time! I came to this book, interested but not expecting to get much more than a refresher look at some of the important composers. Boy was I wrong! Oh the facts are there, wonderfully chosen to appeal to teens and humanize the historical figures—and yes, show them as revolutionaries of music. The introduction to famous pieces is there and information about why each composer stands out. But what completely captivated me was Rhodes’ intensely infectious love for classical music, his spellbinding passion to share that, and his ability to convey that passion to a skeptical teen. It is clear in every syllable that James Rhodes champions classical music and the shining highlight of this impressive book is his ability to make current teens give it a chance. I already love the music and I found his words so compelling that I listened to every note of the playlist with a new sense of wonder. I am so hooked and I think teens will be too.

I admire so much about the writing here but one of my absolute favorite of the repeating sections is where Rhodes describes the musical selections on the playlist. Sometimes he tells about what was happening at the time or he imagines what the composer might have been feeling. Often he describes the way the music makes him feel. Here is his quote about Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. It will give you a good feel for the wonderful tone of this book:

“…as the piano begins, I can see a beautiful bird floating miles above the earth, then soaring down toward the ground and landing on my shoulder. It picks me up and flies me away from all the madness and confusion of the world, up to a place where nothing seems to matter. At least this is what I imagine. I’m sure you will have your own story–it is such a moving piece of music.”

I dare you to read that and resist the urge to immediately listen to the music!

Rhodes also includes a short informational page on a symphony orchestra and a really helpful Timeline of Western Classical Music and the back matter includes a glossary of musical terms.

 

 

Jane Against the World – A Definitive Examination for Teens of the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

Lynn: Does a woman have the right to control what happens to her body? That seemingly simple question is at the heart of a centuries-long struggle in America that has included not only the right to terminate a pregnancy but also the right to basic information, birth control, and legal protections. Award-winning author Karen Blumenthal* delves into these controversial issues in Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights (Roaring Brook, 2020). Opening with a riveting account of a 1972 police raid on an abortion-rights service in Chicago, called Jane, Blumenthal then takes readers back to the early 1800s and the story of the struggle for reproductive rights and the reality of women’s lives throughout history.

The central issue, the development of the laws governing these issues and the legal challenges to these laws, is always at the heart of the book but the many fascinating byways Blumenthal ventures into deeply enrich the reader’s understanding. She includes information on many of the individuals involved in these issues since the 1800s (and before) and the changing course of both understanding and public opinion. One of the things I found most fascinating was the very clear depiction of the development of what is currently termed the right-to-life movement and the shift in political support to become a party partisan issue. She doesn’t falter from examining all sides of the issue as well as the racial and class divides that have and continue to have an important impact.

There is real tension in the sections about Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, as they were developed and presented to the court. All the central figures are presented, frequently quoted, and emerge as far more than dry biographies. The complexities of the legal cases are very clearly outlined and Blumenthal guides readers through each step of the complicated process of the litigation, and both hearings of the cases before the Supreme Court. The constitutional arguments that the cases hinged on are examined in a way young readers can follow. An epilogue brings the on-going struggle right up to date with the appointment of the two new conservative justices and Blumenthal concludes with several scenarios about the possible future of Roe v Wade.

Extensive sidebar information is provided through the device of Pregnant Pauses, including a brief history of birth control, the development of medical knowledge about women’s biology, brief biographies of key individuals, and types of pregnancy tests over the years. Excellent back matter includes a large bibliography, extensive source notes, and a glossary. This is an outstanding and definitive examination of an essential issue that continues to impact women’s lives and dominates political efforts still. This is an essential purchase for all high school collections.

* Lynn and Cindy: We had already queued up this review to post for Nonfiction Monday but last week we learned the news of Karen Blumenthal’s sudden death. We are deeply saddened at the loss of this extraordinary writer and send our condolences to her family, friends, and the entire publishing world.