Book: Unite or Die
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Jef Czekaj
Age Range: 6-9
Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation reminds me a bit of Schoolhouse Rock. It takes important historical information about the United States, and conveys it in a fun, fresh format. Unite or Die grew out of a skit that the author, Jacqueline Jules, wrote for her students to celebrate Constitution Day (September 17th) in 2005. The story is told as a play, with elementary school students dressed up as the thirteen states, acting out the events of the forming of the constitution in 1787. The cast is a multicultural bunch, demonstrating an array of skin tones and ethnicities. I celebrate this - I think makes the book welcoming to a wide range of students.
Jules' method of using a play to tell the story works well, and keeps the historical material from ever feeling dry. Jef Czekaj's cartoon-like illustrations add quiet humor to every page. For example, Rhode Island didn't send a delegate to the convention in 1787. The picture shows the boy dressed as Rhode Island looking the very picture of belligerence. The girl playing New Jersey, for some reason, has a plant on her head. It's all fun. I also think that the graphic novel feel of the illustrations will make the book intriguing to kids.
And yet, Jules manages to get a tremendous amount of information across about how the states found a way to work together, and how democracy works in action. She conveys the necessity of the states working together, and the challenges that the delegates faced, always using the "kids as states" to keep things relatively light-hearted. The book is never preachy. An afterword and series of notes fill in some of the details, and a bibliography is provided for those looking to delve further into the creation of the constitution.
So, it turns out that a bunch of squabbling kids provide a pretty fair representation of the behavior of the new states after the Revolutionary War. And putting kids into a constitutional play offers an excellent way to learn. Unite or Die is a quality title, and receives my highest recommendation. It doesn't sacrifice the reader's enjoyment for education, or vice versa. This is a must-have title for schools and libraries.
Today's Nonfiction Monday round-up is at MotherReader.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.