I’m not sure how I’ve made it through my daughters’ elementary school years without one class play. Sure, I’ve pulled together costumes for Bug Day (second grade), Colonial Day (fourth grade), and Greek Myth Day (sixth grade), but never a class play. Is it just my school or is the country losing this tradition of homemade costumes, adoring parents, and uncomfortable children?
Well, not in the book Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, where author Jacqueline Jules uses the setting of a class performance to convey historical information. The homemade costumes are on display, as kids wear the thirteen original states around their torsos and ill-fitting wigs over pigtails. The adoring parents are in the front row clapping like Tinkerbell’s life is at stake. As for the uncomfortable children, I’m sure that New Jersey is annoyed that she has to carry a garden plant on her head. (I’m guessing that is a tribute to New Jersey as the Garden State, and also guessing that the artist chose not to tackle the slogan “Virginia Is for Lovers.”)
The kids take us through the time after the Revolutionary War, when America had won its freedom but had yet to become a country. With all the states having separate governments and leaders, they needed to find a way to resolve conflicts between them and make decisions as a nation. Through a narrator’s text and dialogue from the “states” and “statesmen,” the reader learns about the process of forming our government. An afterword and notes section answer additional questions. The cartoons by Jef Czekaj will feel familiar to kids, and keep the illustration fun. I do think that the illustrations could have gone funnier and taken better advantage of the performance aspect I wanted to see the kid who holds his sign upside down or who knocks over the scenery. Maybe next time.
The book’s style makes a complicated topic more accessible and enjoyable. It’s perfect for classroom use and covers a subject that all American kids will study, even if they don’t have their own class play.
Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Books Together.