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Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song

by George Ella Lyon
Illustrated by Christopher Cardinale

Published by Cinco Puntos, 2011
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-933693-5

Ages 7-11

Florence Reece penned the now-famous pro-union song “Which Side Are You On?” in Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1931 as gun thugs fired bullets into her home and her seven children hid under the bed. George Ella Lyon’s inspiring account of these events makes for an informative and dramatic picture book. “My Pa is a miner. Earns our dinner deep in the mountain blasting and loading coal.” The young narrator’s Pa is also a union organizer. Ma sends word to Pa not to come home when she learns the sheriff is after him. Lyon skillfully and succinctly lays out the reasons for a union in the child narrator’s voice, which is full of doubt and fear as well as admiration as events unfold. “When the thugs finally quit shooting and we crawl out of hiding we’re sore and hungry, and our house is busted up, but Ma has written us a song.” Dialogue is incorporated into Christopher Cardinale’s striking, digitally colored scratchboard illustrations that heighten the story’s emotional power (“I ain’t on any side. I’m under the bed and I want Pa!”). An informative author’s note provides more information on labor history and the song. This along with a bibliography round out this stirring work. (MS) ©2012 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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