Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song

George Ella Lyon, Author, Christopher Cardinale, Illustrator
George Ella Lyon, illus. by Christopher Cardinale. Cinco Puntos, $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-933693-96-5
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Paperback - 40 pages - 978-1-941026-06-9
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Writing in the folksy voice of the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner, Lyon (All the Water in the World) tells the story of the genesis of a pro-union song written by Florence Reece (the fictionalized narrator’s mother) in 1931. Evoking woodblocks and scratchboard, Cardinale’s (Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush) hard-edged illustrations provide the tale’s momentum and amplify its grittiness. The narrator and her siblings are shown hiding under the bed early on, as bullets zing through the windows and walls of their company home; they are meant for the children’s father, a miner and union organizer. Dodging bullets, their mother tears a page from a calendar and writes the eponymous song, a rallying cry for oppressed workers (“Don’t scab for the bosses./ Don’t listen to their lies”); the lyrics appear in ribboned banners throughout, encircling mining tools and rifles. Lyon’s storytelling jumps between speech-balloon dialogue and the girl’s clipped observations (“This is how the night goes: bullets through the walls, talk under the bed, words on the page”). It’s a high-stakes account of grace under pressure. An afterword provides additional historical context. Ages 7–12. (Oct.)
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