Barbara Jordan’s voice — its power, its timbre, the words it conveyed — made her a force for justice.
The native Houstonian, Texas state senator, U.S. congresswoman and University of Texas professor harnessed that voice to help others.
“So many people had so many hopes for Barbara,” writes Austin author Chris Barton in the inspiring and timely “What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan” (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, $17.99), his newest nonfiction picture book. “In her voice, they knew, there was much to admire. How she spoke for those with less power. How she spoke for those who possessed quieter strengths than her own.”
“Voice” is one of a plethora of new books for young readers that underscore the importance of engaged citizenship and the civic duty of peaceful resistance — and the need for inspiration to do both. Whether you have a board-book enthusiast learning about “Baby Feminists” (Penguin, $9.99), an aspiring marcher planning “Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights” (Simon & Schuster, $17.99) via picture book, or a middle- or high-schooler who can choose from the collected essays in “Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength and Courage” (Knopf, $ 18.99), there’s a title to match.
Barton’s “Voice” showcases Jordan as a trailblazer who always championed what was right, such as in her famous speech during President Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings, when she vowed that she would not “sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.”
Illustrator Ekua Holmes, a Caldecott honoree, uses mixed-media illustrations to plunge readers into Jordan’s world, from her childhood in Houston’s Fifth Ward to her time in Congress to her years as a University of Texas professor. A poignant author’s note that ends the book along with a timeline of Jordan’s life yearns for her wise counsel in today’s political climate: “How I wish she had lived to become an octogenarian dispensing the pragmatic insight, moral clarity, and vision of a common good that we and our leaders need today,” Barton writes. (Ages 4-10)
The next generation of Barbara Jordans may be involved in marches now, or at least learning about them as a means of nonviolent protest through books like “Peaceful Fights.” Written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jared A. Schorr, “Fights” explains in simple, prescriptive text the many ways young (and old) can be engaged citizens: “Educate. Encourage. … Ask questions. Never quit. … Read. Remember. Resist.” Schorr’s illustrations depict a wide and inclusive populace, from the kippah-clad marcher holding an “Inquire” sign to the African-American football player taking a knee, and include snippets of collage that feature real-life protests from the past, including Martin Luther King Jr. and bus tickets that recall Rosa Parks. (Ages 4-8)
Similarly, Martha Freeman’s “If You’re Going to A March” (Sterling, $16.95) offers young readers tips and tricks for navigating marches (“Double-knot your shoelaces so you won’t trip”), and Dave Eggers queries “What Can A Citizen Do?” (Chronicle Books, $17.99) in his lyrical reminder that “everything makes an impact on a bigger big than you.” (Both ages 4-8)
Older readers? Alexandra Styron’s “Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing (Almost) Everything” (Viking/Penguin, $19.99) is part history compendium, part call to action for fledgling social activists. (Ages 12 and older)
Feminist icons like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to start somewhere. Enter “Baby Feminists,” Libby Babbott-Klein’s board-book introduction to pioneers for gender equality. Flip the flap with an illustration from Jessica Walker of the adult leader, and find the same standard-bearer as a wee tot: baby Frida Kahlo sports her trademark unibrow, baby Billie Jean King holds a tennis ball aloft, and baby Mae Jemison reaches for her space mobile. Babbott-Klein will be at BookPeople at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 17. (Ages 0-3)
Finally, even the most dedicated do-gooder needs a dose of inspiration to stay motivated. Three new anthologies for young readers do exactly that.
“We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices” (Crown, $18.99) gathers poems, letters, songs and short essays from luminaries of children’s literature, including Kwame Alexander, who appears in Austin on Monday with his new book, “Swing;” Jason Reynolds, a National Book Award winner who keynoted the 2017 Texas Teen Book Festival; and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jacqueline Woodson, who headlines the Texas Book Festival later this month.
“As a child, I was taught that I am in the world but not of the world,” Woodson writes in a letter to her children urging them to choose kindness. “This is what I want you to think when the world feels like it has lost its mind, when leaders don’t feel like leaders, when adults lie and bully, when you know, in your brilliant and beautiful and loving hearts, the right thing to do and the right way to be.” (Ages 8-12)
Resistance has happened throughout history, as Veronica Chambers shows in the 35 mini-profiles included in “Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice” (HarperCollins, $16.99). From Joan of Arc in 1429 to those who took part in the Women’s March in 2017, from Samuel Adams in 1773 to Oskar Schindler in 1945, Chambers incisively and concisely offers the long view on activism through her subjects. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D- N.J., who has been center stage during the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, contributes a foreword. (Ages 8-12)
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Booker’s colleague on the Judiciary Committee, was in Austin last week for the Texas Tribune Festival. She authored the foreword to “Nevertheless, We Persisted,” a cogent collection of 48 short essays centered on overcoming adversity, from Klobuchar’s struggles with her father’s alcoholism to equally intense and personal stories of racism, sexism and inequalities in all walks of life, such as former NFL star Wade Davis’ admission that his bullying in high school masked his discomfort with his own sexuality. The breadth of “Persisted” makes a persuasive and credible argument for the value in standing up for one’s beliefs; the compelling writing makes it an engaging read as well. (Ages 14 and older)