Voting rights explored in new book for kids

How many leaves are on the tree outside your window?

That’s a question you may not be able to answer. How could you even count them all? Would you ever get an answer that’s right? It’s a silly question, for sure, and probably not very important. In the new book, “Lillian’s Right to Vote,” by Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans, you’ll see why someone would even ask.

Lillian stands at the bottom of a “very steep hill.” It’s voting day, and she’s going to take advantage of her rights.

As she looks up the hill, she sees things — not just a hill, but a slave auction. There are her great-great-grandparents: Elijah is wearing chains, and Sarah is holding a baby. Lillian sees that they’re standing near a courthouse where only white men could vote.

It’s a long way up that hill and, as she climbs, Lillian sees more history: once a baby at that auction, her great-grandfather, Edmund grew up to pick cotton. He didn’t have any more rights than his own parents did — at least not until after the Civil War.

Lillian can see great-grandpa Edmund, post-war, on his way to vote for the very first time. He approaches the polls, looking dignified in his finest clothes; great-grandma Ida is there, too, but she can’t vote yet. That, as Lillian knows, is many years away.

Then the hill seems to become higher, and the climb gets harder. Lillian sees her grandpa, Isaac, but he’s not voting because of a poll tax that he has no hope of paying. She hears her uncle Levi, telling stories about impossible questions that had to be answered before anyone with brown skin could step up to cast a vote. She sees the same angry faces that surrounded her when she was a child, and women finally were allowed to vote.

White women, that is. Not people like Lillian.

Stopping in the middle of the hill, Lillian remembers. Once, she registered to vote and had to take a test that she didn’t pass. People were hurt and killed over votes. She starts walking again, soon reaching the voting place.

And Lillian steps to the door…

Did you ever buy a book for the kids that you ended up keeping for yourself? That’s what could happen once you’ve found “Lillian’s Right to Vote” — and that’s OK. I think you’ll understand it more than your children will anyhow.

There’s no doubt in my mind that kids will love this book. Sharp-eyed children, those who wonder what the presidential candidate fuss is about, will get a basic history of the importance of voting. Children in this books’ target age (3- to 6-year-olds) will appreciate the story here. For sure, they’ll all enjoy the illustrations.

The real goodness in this book, however, is that becoming a children’s picture story doesn’t at all diminish its power. Indeed, “Lillian’s Right to Vote” is 10 feet tall, and it’s something neither you nor your child will be able to leave.

— View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children weekly.

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