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I had the great privilege to meet the wonderful George Ella Lyon at a Children's Literary Conference in Redlands, California. She is a wonder author, and storyteller. And she plays the guitar and sings too. She was one of the keynote speakers and we got to have one-on-one time with her. She offered us a lot of insight on the process of writing for children. Which Side Are You On? Is a great story for all ages.
This is an inspiring story of how Florence Reese came to write a song that is sung around the world: "Which Side Are You On?" The writing and the art together depict life in a company mining town in 1931. What keeps this from being a 5-star book in my opinion is that, in order to tell the story to the reader, the author has the children ask questions they wouldn't have asked, because their every-day life experience would have provided the answer. An example is when one child asks, "Why don't the sheriff stop them?" just so that Ma can reply, "The company pays him not to. They own Sheriff Blair as sure as they own this house." It is certainly true that the company owned Sheriff Blair, but I think the kids would have known this and wouldn't have asked the question, at least not this way. That aside, this is a book well worth reading. The way the words of the song are wound around mining tools on one page, and machine guns on another page, help drive home the fact that there are two sides in the struggle of working people for a better life and a better world.
When the coal miners in Kentucky form a union and start a strike, a family hides behinds its doors. In the meantime, Ma, Florence Reece, writes a song that makes history. Children ages 5-8 will read this historical story book, and learn this song, and will feel empowered to fight for their rights.