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Celebrating Jane Addams' legacy in her hometown: Jane Addams Children's Book Awards.

In late April in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ann Carpenter, children's librarian and this year's chair of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award (JACBA) selection committee, live-streamed an announcement of the 2015 winners. A few days later on May 2, in Cedarville, Illinois, the awards were announced in a ceremony which unfolded in a brick school house dating from 1889--now the Cedarville Area Historical Society Museum--set on a green and sunny hill, the site of Jane Addams' first school and above her childhood home in the village below.

Our gathering in an upstairs schoolroom included students and teachers from the Rockford public Montessori school who, with award selection committee member Beth McGowan and son Dylan and Jim Bade, Cedarville Historical Society host, organized the event. Two other members of the award selection committee, Susan Freiss and Jacqui Kolar, other supporters of books for children about peace and justice, as well as Paul Fry, only living pallbearer of Jane Addams, were in attendance. The program featured the use of nominated titles in schools in Illinois and the announcement of winning and honor books.

Rockford Public Montessori program teachers opened our ceremony by discussing resonances between the approaches and philosophies toward educating children espoused by contemporaries Maria Montessori and Jane Addams. The Rockford teachers also described the program they developed using books nominated for the Jane Addams book awards. Modeled in part on the program Susan Freiss pioneered in her fourth and fifth grade classroom, six Rockford Montessori teachers used nominated titles in classrooms ranging from preschool to eighth grade. Students read or were read nominated books and judged them according to the award criteria. In addition to the in-class work, retired teacher Chriss Muniz ran a special Jane Addams Children's Book Club comprised of older students from many classes who read and kept readers' notebooks on as many of the books as they could. Several students read all titles.

To create such a broad program, the teachers raised money from several sources, including a grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, to buy over 300 copies of the nominated titles. These books and earlier JACBA titles have been easily incorporated into the Rockford Montessori curriculum that stresses educating students on social justice issues and activities that address those issues.

Jane Addams books in schools

As the winners and honor titles for 2015 were introduced, we learned of another example of the incorporation of Jane Addams books in schools. Jacqui Kolar, selection committee member and reading specialist and dyslexia consultant at Big Hollow School District 38 in Ingleside, Illinois, introduced our two younger children's honor books using video-taped readers' theaters by third grade students. The first video introduced Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914. Written and illustrated by John Hendrix and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, the book tells the story of the Christmas Truce in the trenches of World War I, conveying the futility of war and the powerlessness of individual soldiers who manage against the odds to create a moment of shared humanity amid chaos. Another set of Jacqui's students read aloud The Whispering Town, written by Jennifer Elvgren and illustrated by Fabio Santomauro and published by Kar-Ben Publishing. The readers' theater depicted a young child in a small town in Nazi-occupied Denmark that smuggled Jews out of the country. Perfectly balancing the dread of the situation with the heroism of the townspeople, this book is an excellent introduction to the subject matter for young children.

Introducing the winner of Books for Younger Readers Category was Susan Freiss of Madison, Wisconsin, a veteran teacher who has used the books in her classes for years and has been active with the Jane Addams Children's Book Award for over ten years. The winning book, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her family's fight for desegregation, was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. This book tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her siblings who, upon enrolling in a new school system, were told they must attend an inferior "school for Mexicans." Sylvia's family worked tirelessly to unite the Latino community and bring an end to the segregation. Separate Is Never Equal brings the story to life with illustrations done in a style meant to echo Mayan codex figures.


The first of the older children's honor book, Revolution, by Deborah Wiles, published by Scholastic Press, was introduced by Montessori student Ahna Doherty with her teacher, Rich Muniz. The book incorporates primary source documents and song lyrics from the 1960s with more conventional novel narration to tell the story of Freedom Summer through the eyes of young people whose worlds are turning upside down. Primarily told through the voice of Sunny, a young white girl, depth and perspective are added to the narrative through Raymond, a black boy, and a third-person narrator.

Paul Fry noted that many roads and buildings are named after Jane Addams, but this book award honors Jane more truly.

The second honor title, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, written by Margarita Engle and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was introduced by Montessori student Jordan Rainer. This is a complex book that uses free verse poetry to give a voice to the many lives touched by the creation of the Panama Canal. The voices include the workers from the greater Caribbean, indigenous peoples of Panama, and employees from the US, and more audaciously, the voices of animals, plants, even the jungle itself to convey a story of profound injustice and inequality--and a fight for basic human rights and the rights of nature.

The winner of the older children's book category, The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, was introduced by Susan Freiss and student Charlie Thies. The book tells the true story of a young woman's role in ending segregated schools before the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision. This marvelous title features a little known story of Barbara Rose Johns who urged her peers to resist separate and very unequal schooling with astonishing bravery and little regional or national support. The book is notable for its original research and the wonderfully drawn context of Ms. Johns' activism.

Our final and very special guest speaker was Paul Fry, 92, who with his brothers and his cousin, served, at age twelve, as a pall bearer during Jane Addams' funeral. A WWII veteran, Catholic priest for 15 years, then a social worker in D.C. for the rest of his working career, he returned to Cedarville to be closer to family and to live in an old house built the year before the founding of Hull House, where nearby Jane Addams formed the ideas that have so affected humanity.

Mr. Fry noted that many roads and buildings are named after Jane Addams, but this book award honors Jane more truly. Jane Addams' life and work, he said, were based on "the firmest of convictions in the ideals of democracy and that we are all equal members of one human family. These convictions require that our minds be open to each other."

The ceremony over, everyone enjoyed lunch and cake, supplied by the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA).

The JACBA books may be ordered from your independent book seller. This article was compiled by Awards Committee members Beth McGowan and Susan Freiss with much help from Ann Carpenter's descriptions of the honor and winning books. Susan is a member of the Madison Branch of WILPF and Beth is a member of WILPF at large.

By the JACBA Awards Committee
COPYRIGHT 2015 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
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Publication:Peace and Freedom
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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