Established by the National Education Association in 1998 and celebrated every March 2 (honoring the birthday of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel), Read Across America Day is a reading motivation and awareness program with the goal of encouraging reading 365 days a year. In honor of this year’s event, we asked HISTORY staffers to recommend some recently-published books that provide valuable life-lessons through the lens of ground-breaking historical figures.
Rosie Revere, Engineer
When her great-great-aunt Rose—the famed Rosie the Riveter—comes to visit young Rosie she mentions her one unfinished goal in life—to fly. Luckily, Rosie dreams of becoming an engineer and spends her evenings alone in her room tinkering with gizmos and gadgets. She decides to make Rose’s dream come true, but is terrified to show anyone her inventions. The elder Rose explains that failure is nothing to fear. In fact, she says, her first major failure should be celebrated, and says the only true way to fail is to quit. Author Andrea Beaty and illustrator David Roberts provide lessons in perseverance and believing in your own big dreams, while sprinkling in some history of women in aviation in “Rosie Revere Engineer.”
Even as a child, Jane Goodall—renowned primatologist, conservationist and United Nations Messenger of Peace—dreamed of traveling to Africa and becoming a naturalist. When she was just over one years old, Jane’s father gave her a chimpanzee stuffed animal that she named Jubilee. Her mother’s friends were horrified by the like lifelike toy, but Jane loved it, in fact she still has it on her dresser to this day. It is this toy that launched her love for animals. Author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell, working with Goodall’s cooperation and including some of her own sketches and drawings, chose to focus on this background for the book “Me…Jane.”
Published by Grosset & Dunlap, the “Who Was?” series focuses on significant artists, scientists and world leaders in history told by a variety of authors and illustrators. The three latest additions to the series include the following:
Americans fell in love with Lucille Ball in the 1950s when her hit show, I Love Lucy, first aired and 60 years later, it is still one of the most loved television shows of all time. Lucy was known as a groundbreaking comedian and actress, but did you know she was also the first woman to run a major television studio?
Born near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, Cesar Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers, and formed the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes in support of his cause.
Born to immigrant parents in the Bronx borough of New York City, Sonia Sotomayor went on to graduate from Yale Law School and pass the bar in 1980. Nominated by President Barack Obama on May 26, 2009, she became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
Ordinary People Change the World
One day, while out shopping with his daughter, author Brad Meltzer realized he only saw princesses and loud-mouthed celebrities depicted as inspirations for his children. He knew there were better heroes, Meltzer has said, that didn’t focus on fame or appearance. So he creatd the series, “Ordinary People Change the World,” which tells the stories of American heroes and icons we all know, but in a different way. Each book begins in their childhood, highlighting the historical figures life journey in a relatable, easy-to-understand way. Going to school, facing bullies and standing up for themselves are some of the challenges and obstacles these American heroes face. The message? We can all be heroes. Recent and upcoming additions focus on Jim Henson, Sacagawea and Mohandas Gandhi.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., future Georgia Congressman John Lewis joined the burgeoning civil rights movement. Nearly 50 years later, he worked with co-writer Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell, to create an award-winning, three-part graphic memoir about his coming-of-age in the turbulent 60s. The books aren’t just meant to memorialize Lewis’ place in the movement, but to inspire new generations to get involved in political engagement. Book one centers on his childhood in rural Alabama, his religious upbringing, the life-changing meeting with Dr. King and the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Book two focuses on his commitment to nonviolence which is tested as he becomes a Freedom Rider. Book three brings us to the fight for voting rights, Freedom Summer and the contentious Democratic National Convention of 1968. “March” provides a blueprint for movements, past, present and future.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
It was through reading, writing and education that a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg learned how words (sometimes even disagreeable ones) could change the world—helping to form her well-known reputation for dissent. Author Debbie Levy and illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley wanted to depict the notorious R.B.G.’s long tradition of dissenting and fighting unfairness and prejudice. In “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark,” there are many important lessons, including the theme that one doesn’t have to be labeled disagreeable just because they disagree. A determined pioneer, the Supreme Court Justice has objected, resisted, disapproved and dissented her way into history.