Monday, March 14, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Unraveling Freedom

Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War IUnraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I Ann Bausum

While American soldiers fought abroad, making the world safe for democracy, they steadily lost freedoms on American soil. Labor leaders and peace activists were shunned and even jailed for voicing anti-war sentiment. It became illegal to teach German in the public schools (and foreign language instruction in the US has never recovered) and many immigrants were treated with suspicion and derision.

Bausum explores these issues and more (I never thought about Prohibition gaining traction because of anti-German sentiment and the amount of German-American ownership of the brewing business...) in her beautiful book on free speech and other civil rights on the homefront during WWI.

My only complaint is that it's too short. (Including notes, bibliography, citations, etc, it's still only 88 pages.) As such, it fails to provide some necessary context. In the afterword, it discusses that one of the lasting effects of WWI was that "residents began to think of themselves as American's first, immigrants second (if at all)." (page 73) but it never really discusses the way the American landscape looked before WWI for readers to fully understand what a cultural change this was. It also draws frequent parallels between our WWI and our current situation. After the sinking of the Lusitania, we were pulled into a large war and lost many freedoms. After 9/11, we were pulled into a war and lost many freedoms. While these parallels are interesting and make sense to adults without much explanation, the target audience of this book (upper middle grade/tween) does not remember a pre-9/11 world. In a year or two, the target audience of this book will have not lived in a pre-9/11 world* and so these comparisons are more confusing than useful.** And the book doesn't provide the pre-9/11 context needed.

These are issues that would have been easily solved by adding in some more material, and it wouldn't have bogged down the book or made it too long.

Visually, this book is very stunning. It makes good use of a faded red, white, and blue color scheme and very consciously mimics WWI propaganda posters. There's even a lengthy design note which discusses this and other design decisions included with the CIP data on title verso. Am I such a geek that a design note gets me overly excited? Yes, yes I am.

So overall, I really liked it, I just wanted (and I think younger readers will need) more.

Round up is over at Chapter Book of the Day.

*yes, I feel really old now, too.

**A few years ago, a 9-year-old asked me if I had heard about this time "a long time ago, when some guys flew airplanes into some big buildings." And this was a kid who had lived his entire life within 15 miles of the Pentagon.

Book Provided by... my local library

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