Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Jef Czekaj is one of the most kid-friendly books I've ever read that explains how our Constitution came to be. When I originally read the title, I assumed the book would be about America's fight for independence. This book is great because it is so much more than that.
The story is told with a very clever plot device -- a school play at Forest Lake Elementary. Some of the students in the play are dressed up as the original 13 colonies. The story begins right after the American colonies have won the Revolutionary War, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. Turns out the colonists have spent so much time unified as a group, fighting against King George, that they really don't know how to live together as one country.
Jacqueline Jules uses great dialogue between states in the play to show how much self-centeredness and bickering was actually taking place among the states. Students will be able to identify with the characters Jules has created in the states. Each one has a distinct personality and its own wants and needs.
Because of this bickering, the United States of America was not able to function effectively and something had to be done. The story does a nice job explaining all the different events and plans that take place as representatives from the different colonies met in Philadelphia to try to find a government that would work for all.
Jules does a wonderful job mixing the facts of these events with the dialogue of the states (in speech bubbles, no less). During all of this, the dialogue of the states propels the story forward in a way that children will be able to understand. Because of this dialogue, the reader is better able to understand the need for the three separate branches of government provided in the Constitution.
But if all that weren't enough, the last two parts of the book were the clinchers for me. There is an afterword that more fully explains the Constitution and focuses on the fact that these state delegates from long ago, formed a document that could change with the times that they could not even imagine -- a great introduction to the power of amendments. Finally, little questions that I found myself asking while reading the text like, on pages 28-29, "How did Roger Sherman save the day?", are asked and answered in the last section. So many great facts that kids will love to find out!
Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation was given to me by the author as a courtesy at the most recent kidlit blogger conference. How exciting that I was able to meet the author of this Cybils nonfiction picture book nominee! Even more exciting is how I will be able to use this book in my own 5th grade classroom.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a tip of the hat to Jef Czekaj for his wonderfully amusing illustrations that children will love!