Children’s Book Reviews: Stories for Kids about Empowerment, Protest Movements, and Multiculturalism

By Cyrisse Jaffee

A trio of books for kids about combating injustice.

Leah Henderson, Together We March: 25 Protest Movements That Marched into History. Illustrated by Tyler Feder. Atheneum Books, 2021.

Jekka Kuhlman, Krissy Kuhlman, and Hakey Hazell, Little Dumplings. Illustrated by Manita Boonyong. Chronicle Books, 2023.

Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up. Adapted by Cedella Marley. Illustrated by John Jay Cabuay. Chronicle Books, 2019, 2023.

Based on the well-known song written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, with text adapted by Marley’s oldest daughter, Get Up, Stand Up is a little board book obviously aimed at younger readers. Although its anti-bullying message is admirable and its pictures — featuring a range of kids — are colorful and lively, little ones may be occasionally confused by the mismatch of text and pictures. The great refrain from the song: “Get up stand up, stand up for your rights/Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight” deserves better exposition, as well as clearer illustrations. In one scenario, two kids tease another girl, who is presumably Asian. Her friends rally around her, but the resolution is murky. Next, a boy wearing glasses is somehow befriended by other kids. Then the message widens, using words not from the original song: “Be a good neighbor and cherish your sisters and brothers.… Share your truth and compassion/Together there’s much we can do.” Part of a series of books based on Bob Marley’s songs, this one just misses its mark.

Little Dumplings is another board book with an obvious message — appreciating differences — but it’s as appealing as the food it features. Some critics have pointed out that using food to teach about the value of different cultures is superficial and clichéd, but this book nevertheless manages to achieve its goal. “All the world’s cultures have dumplings to share,” we are told. “When we’re around you’ll share more than just food/We are tradition, love, and gratitude.” The simple illustrations present happy, multicultural families and provide the names of the various kinds of dumplings, from momo to mandu, pierogi to samosa. (The dumplings are shown smiling, too!) The last spread provides a pronunciation guide as well as the country or region where each type of dumpling is found. A sweet and savory treat indeed.

Despite its oversize picture book format, Together We March — a thorough account of some of the most significant protests in modern times — is aimed at an older audience. The events covered range from the more well known (Mother Jones’s March of the Mill Children in Pennsylvania, 1903; women’s march for suffrage in London, 1907; March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963; ) to some that may be lesser-known (the march of Bulgarian Jews against Hitler, 1943; the Delano to Sacramento March for farm workers’ rights, 1966; Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1970; Cape Town Peace March, 1989; and even a “Million Puppet March” in 2012 to support PBS).

Each event is explained in detail and placed in its historical context, from the people or groups who organized the action to the effect it had on the issue. The scope and breadth of the protest movements are inspiring and the entries make for very compelling reading. (It’s the kind of history that Ron DeSantis won’t like.) One hopes that the format won’t put off older readers and the small print won’t deter others. The spot illustrations help make each spread appealing and attractive. A timeline at the end includes some of the typical protest signs and a bibliography with books and websites for further research.

Cyrisse Jaffee is a former children’s and YA librarian, a children’s book editor and book reviewer, and a creator of educational materials for WGBH. She holds a master’s degree in Library Science from Simmons College and lives in Newton, MA.

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