Written by Jonah Winter, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Random House Children’s Book, 2015
A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It’s Voting Day, she’s an American, and by God, she is going to vote.
The plot in a nutshell: A woman reflects back on the events that led to her voting on Election Day.
Lillian starts climbing up the hill to place her vote and as she does, she imagines scenes from her history. It begins with her great-great-grandparents, who came to Alabama as slaves. She sees her great-grandfather, who is the first in her family to vote, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Then she sees her grandfather forced to pay a poll tax, which he couldn’t afford, in order to vote and her uncle being required to pass a practically impossible test in order to vote. She remembers going with her parents to vote and being turned away by a mob and the burning cross that appeared in her yard afterwards. She sees herself registering to vote and facing another impossible test in order to achieve what should be a basic right. As she keeps climbing the hill, she is tired and hurting, but she sees the faces of those who fought and died to earn her privilege to be heard on Election Day, so she keeps going. She recalls the day in 1965 when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and joyfully walks into the booth to place her vote.
Author Jonah Winter states that his initial purpose in writing this book was to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which gave all American citizens the right to vote. While he was writing it, though, the Supreme Court overturned the provision for federal oversight of the Act, allowing states to enforce their own laws, making it difficult for some people to vote in those states. He explains this in a note to the reader in the back of the book and issues a call to the next generation to take up the fight. Lillian in this book is based on 100 year old Lillian Allen of Pittsburgh, who campaigned for President Obama in her neighborhood, encouraging younger people to vote.
Illustrator Shane W. Evans uses mixed media to create the artwork to accompany Lillian’s climb uphill and the pictures enhance the impact and emotion of the story. Throughout her walk, we see present day Lillian in full color, while her ancestors and predecessors appear in more shadowy image. One very striking picture features Lillian in the voting booth and we see the younger version of her from 1965 on the left side, voting for the first time, while the current 100 year old version is seen on the right side. Racism is a difficult subject, but one that we need to keep talking about with children if we ever hope to make it part of our past. And I believe this story really presents the importance of voting in such a profound and moving way that I can’t imagine anyone reading it and then neglecting to exercise their right to vote ever again.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that voting is a hard won privilege that should never be taken for granted.