Rad American History A-Z: Movements That Demonstrate the Power of the People

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Rad American History A-Z: Movements That Demonstrate the Power of the People Book Poster Image
Great storytelling and context in fresh, dynamic history.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Thorough profiles of numerous movements in American history and significant people who rose up and became activists. Aso cultural institutions and movements like jazz, libraries, pop art, and the Federal Theatre Project. The book is full of stories that will be new to young readers, even those featuring people they may have heard of, such as Harriet Tubman and Colin Kaepernick. The entry on witches traces historical inicendents like the Salem Witch Trials and other witch persecutions of witchcraft in the 17th and 18th centuries but also discusses "traditions and practices of healing, magic, and witchcraft" that have endured and new froms o witchcraft developed in the mid-20th century, noting that in "1968, Wicca combined the counterculture and feminists movements."

Positive Messages

Stand up for what you believe in. Social and political change sometimes takes a long time. Everyone has the right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, but some citizens had to fight long and hard for it -- and still do. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Every chapter is filled with people who stood up for justice and equality, some familiar (like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr.) but most unfamiliar to young readers. The co-authors' introduction notes: "Rad American History A-Z is also biased -- toward the stories that don't get told, the ones many readers won't have heard of: stories of women, people of color, immigrants, indigenous people, and those whose histories aren't always seen as important or central to the American story."

Violence

Some violence is recounted, including lynchings, police dogs attacking civil rights protesters in the 1963 Children's March in Birmingham, Alabama, a bomb that went off in environmental activist Judi Bari's car, a veterans' march in 1932 in which U.S. Army in tanks hurled tear gas grenades into a camp of vets demanding payment or war benefits, which started a fire, and two vets and a baby were killed. Mention of deaths in the AIDS crisis, circa 1985, which led to the creation of the NAMES Project and the AIDS quilt. Story of the police raid at the Stonewall bar in New York City 1969 to roundup homosexuals and drag queens describes cops wielding nightsticks, pushing and grabbing, bottles, bricks, and stones thrown, and a fire breaking out. Story of the Shirtwaist Factory Fire mentions a woman picketing outside the factory for workers' rights in 1909 being beaten by two men and having six ribs broken. Description of the fire in March 1910, with workers trapped inside, some of the women jumping through broken windows to escape and falling to their deaths. In the story of women fighting for voting rights, mention of a Night of Terror in 1917 Virginia, in which protesting women were sent to a prison and guards were ordered to attack them, with some of them having their heads smashed against the metal beds. Another story in that chapter recounts how Fannie Lou Hamer and other women fighting for voting rights 1964 were arrested in South Carolina and beaten by police in county jail. Hamer also describes how prison guards forced two black inmates to beat her and another woman, and reveals that she lost partial sight in her left eye and sustained permanent kidney damage. Murders of Medgar Evers amd Emmett Till mentioned. mention of the deaths casued by the nuclear bombs droped on Japan in 1945 during World War II and radioactive fallout of hydrogen bomb testing in 1954 that pisoned 23 crew members on a Japanese fishing boat.

Sex

References to the terms "butch, femme, trans"  in the Stonewall story, along with historical perspective on usage, noting that the Stonewall bar was "was popular with drag queens (known then as "transvestites"), transsexuals (what we now call "treansgender people"), and "queens" (gender-nonconforming gay men)."

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rad American History A-Z: Movements and Moments That Demonstrate the Power of the People is by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, the author-illustrator team behind Rad American Women A-ZRad Women Worldwide, and Rad Girls Can. It features profiles of people and whole activist movements arranged alphabetically, from "A is for Alcatraz and the Indian Occupation of 1969"  to "Z is for Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Movement that mobilized the 99 Percent." Other movements include #Black Lives Matter, No Nukes, Stonewall, United Farm Workers. Individuals include Harriett Tubman (in the story of the Combahee River Raid she participated in that helped 700 enslaved people escape to freedom in one day), old-growth redwood tree-sitter Julia Butterfly (in the story of the Earth First! movement), Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong in the entry "J Is for Jazz"), Keith Haring in the entry on pop art, and athlete Colin Kaepernick in a sidebar titled "Colin Takes a Knee." Some violence is recounted, including lynchings, a bomb that went off in environmental activist Judi Bari's car, a 1932 veterans' march in which the Army hurled tear gas grenades into the protesters' camp, which started a fire, and two vets and a baby were killed. There are several stories of police brutality and protesters and activists being arrested, beaten, and killed. 

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What's the story?

RAD AMERICAN HISTORY A-Z offers stories of people and movements that have helped shape and change the United States socially, politically, and culturally. Many of the people are underdogs whose stories are not often told. The biographical, historical, and up-to-the minute contemporary profiles are arranged alphabetically, and the last page of each entry offers a short list of four or five other stories that fit that letter, with one-line descriptions. In the chapter for B, for example, list on the last page cites these five: Beat Generation, Birth Control Pill, Black Panther Party, Brown Berets, Brown V. Board of Education. 

Is it any good?

This fresh collection of key historical moments and people who made history is engaging and inspiring. Rad American History A-Z: Movements and Moments That Demonstrate the Power of the People incudes people readers may have never heard of but who stood up and made a difference in their time and their community, and made life better for those who came after them. It drives home the point that the history we learn often depends on who wrote it, and celebrates many unsung heroes who never made it into a history book -- before this one!

Each entry per letter is six pages long, offering a great deal of context for the inspiration and arc of a movement or the roots and rise of an individual. Every one opens with a dynamic illustration in Miriam Klein Stahl's signature black-and-white cut-paper style and ends with a list of four or five other significant items that start with that letter and a one-line description. The writing is so good and the content so rich throughout the book, it makes readers wish all the items in those lists got the full treatment, too. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the activists in Rad American History A-Z. Were you surpised how ordinary many of them seem? What casues a regular person to stand up and risk their reputation or even their life for a cause they beleive in?  

  •  Why do you think you haven't heard some of thises stories before? How does history depend on who writes it? 

  • if you were going to tell a history of your family, your school, or your town, what stories would you include? What unsung heroes do you know about? 

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