“It’s voting day, she’s an American, and by God she’s going to vote.”
This powerful opening in author Jonah Winter’s latest picture book, Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, quickly introduces readers to the main character: sweet old Miss Lillian, a frail matron with a stooped back, a walking stick, and a will of pure iron.
It’s voting day, and even though the polls are located at the very top of a very steep hill, Lillian leans on her trusty cane and inches her 100-year-old frame forward. She doesn’t moan and groan during the long walk, but she does remember: stories of her great-great-grandparents standing on the auction block; her great-grandfather picking cotton from sunup to sundown, and eventually growing up and casting his vote for the very first time after the Fifteenth Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote; how her grandfather was charged a poll tax before he could cast his vote; and how Lillian and her parents were chased away by an angry mob when they tried to register to vote.
This lovely picture book is both quiet and powerful in its delivery. It is quiet in that it conjures memories of the sweet old grandmothers of yesteryear who wouldn’t hurt a fly; and powerful in that it depicts inner strength, resolve, and a desire for freedom that has existed since the beginning of time.
Mr. Winter’s prose is sweet, lyrical, and haunting in places, and will leave readers wondering what other amazing stories are hidden deep inside the hearts of the old people they know. Artist Shane W. Evans expertly juxtaposes the deep, rich colors of Lillian’s current world with soft sepia and gray tones of the people and events from her past—a contrast that gives readers a “teetering between two worlds” sensation.
This book is perfect for young children just learning America’s history, long-time history buffs, and readers who love a stroll down memory lane . . . even if that stroll leads them past a few dark and poignant places.
Best wishes and happy reminiscing,
PS – I’m spreading the love. This book review also appears on The Black History Channel – http://theblackhistorychannel.com/2015/lillians-right-to-vote-a-celebration/
and on my review page at The New York Journal of Books page – http://www .nyjournalofbooks. com/book- review/lillian% E2%80%99s