A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
While the book has events and people already familiar to readers, there are also some that may not have appeared in their history text books. They'll learn that early American suffragettes were influenced and inspired by the Haudenosaunee women of the Six Nations Confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora) who could hold political office, control property, and had bodily autonomy. For readers who think celebrities and politics are something new, there's the story of how Lillian Russell, one of America's most famous actresses, was appointed by President Harding as a Special Immigration Inspector and helped influence an immigration policy that would prioritized White people from Northern and Western Europe. And they'll read the remarkable story of Mustafa Al-Azemmouri (Black, Muslim, and multilingual). In the early 16th century, he became the first Non-Native to explore the present day American Southwest.
"We can't change the past. But we can live in relationship with it in a way that informs and energizes our present. We are walking through history all the time, and it is up to us to keep circling, to keep engaging, to keep reaching for the heart of things."
Positive Role Models
Lots of young people to admire are featured who model compassion, courage, and teamwork: The Young Lords, begun by high school and college kids in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City, evolved into an organization with thousands of members that ran free breakfast programs and daycares, developed innovative drug rehab programs, and taught kids about (and to be proud of) their Puerto Rican heritage. Young Hopi and Dine' (Navajo) youth activists have teamed up to form the Black Mesa Water Coalition to fight extraction and protect their community's water supply and a group of teen activists in Oregon (Youth Vs. ODOT) is working to educate the public about the links between freeway expansion and climate change.
The people whose stories are told in the book reflect the diversity that has always been part of American history. In some chapters, the stories for Black, Indigenous, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, and gay Americans are ones of enslavement and denial of basic human rights. In other chapters, it's stories of courageous activists who risk their lives to make changes that will better the lives of all Americans. "One Nation Under God" explores the rise of the Moral Majority, Christian media, and a White evangelical conservative voting bloc that influenced presidential elections from Carter to Trump.
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Violence & Scariness
There are brief references to people being beaten, jailed, harassed, and killed. The "This Land is Your Land" chapter tells how the U.S. government rounded up and slaughtered an estimated 500,000 animals belonging to the Dine' people to make room for building the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. "Traditional Family Values" details the forced or coerced sterilization of tens of thousands of women who were "genetically unfit," poor, institutionalized, Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, or simply deemed bad mothers by social workers. A history of guns in U.S. and how the AR-15 (the weapon of choice for mass shootings) has become what the NRA calls "America's Rifle" is explored in "Good Guy with a Gun."
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After the Civil War, some White suffragettes were outraged that Black men would be given the vote while White women would not. Prominent suffragette Elizabeth Cade Stanton asked if she was supposed to "stand aside and see Sambo walk into the kingdom first." White missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands saw the islanders as "vile" and "covered with every abomination" and set out to "civilize" them.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Ariel Aberg-Riger's American Redux: Visual Stories From Our Dynamic History looks at American history not through facts and dates but through people and events, some of them from the darkest episodes in American history. There are stories of abolitionists and suffragettes, Indigenous and AIDS activists, Spanish explorers, Hawaiian royalty, farm workers strikes, radioactive colonialism, and the fight to define what it means to be an "American." The handwritten text, archival photographs, illustrations, maps, and striking collages make for a visually stunning read. This is a diverse history with stories about the struggles and triumphs of Black, Indigenous, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, and gay Americans. There are brief references to people being beaten, jailed, harassed, and killed and chapters look at the forced sterilization of women and the rise of gun violence. American Redux won the the 2023 Kirkus Prize for Young Reader's Literature.
Is It Any Good?
This isn't history filled with dates and timelines, it's visually stunning, sometimes shocking, often heartbreaking, and always compelling. American Redux's non-linear approach and reliance on images enhances rather than detracts from its impact -- helping the reader see that many struggles of the past (racism, voting rights, immigration, censorship) are still being fought today. Debut author Ariel Aberg-Riger blends a handwritten-like font of her own design for the eye-opening but digestible chapters with vivid collages of illustrations, photographs, maps, newspaper print, and copied objects for this innovative volume. This must-read book underscores the point that only by honestly studying the past can we ensure a better future.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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