Discovering the Bill of Rights through Fiction

Book Links: Feb./Mar. 2001 (v.10, no.4)

by Barbara Elleman, Laura Tillotson, and Beth Warrell

Gun violence in schools. The presidential election hinging on the rights of states. Freedom of speech on the airwaves. More than 200 years after its creation, the Bill of Rights continues to affect and frame our society in vast and influential ways. But when the first 10 amendments come up in social studies classes, both the language and the concepts may be hard for students to comprehend without some help. What better way to tackle the problem than by introducing fiction with thematic applications?

As part of
Book Links' tenth anniversary celebration, we are revisiting the Bill of Rights. Originally written for the December 15, 1990, issue, this bibliography lists fiction titles amendment by amendment, with an additional list of related sources that will round out students' knowledge of the Constitution. A number of possibilities for making the Bill of Rights meaningful to middle- and upper-elementary readers include:

Reading and discussing.

Divide the class into groups, assigning each a fiction title relating to one of the amendments. After discussing it among themselves, students might give a presentation to the entire class about their amendment. Some points to cover are: the meaning of that particular amendment, why it was written, how the novel related to it, what reactions students had to both the novel and the amendment, and how the book might affect their opinion of the amendment.

Original research.

Encourage student investigations of how rights have changed in the last decades through interviews with older family and community members, perusal of local archives, and talks with local police, attorneys, and judges. Invitations to discuss the Bill of Rights could be made to these local officials.

A personal bill of rights.

Have students draw up a bill of rights for their school to emphasize the meaning of this important document. Such a task will not only enhance their understanding but will allow them to see the difficulty of balancing the needs and interests of many people.


First Amendment-Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, and Assembly

The Fighting Ground. Illus. by Ellen Thompson. 1984. 160p. HarperCollins, $12.95 (0-397-32073-6); paper, $4.95 (0-06-440185-5).

Gr. 5-up. Thirteen-year-old Jonathan joins a group of neighbors who have assembled to head off approaching British soldiers in 1778. After he is captured by Hessians, his belief in the glories of war quickly fades.

Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel. 1991. 177p. Orchard, $16.95 (0-531-05959-6); Avon, paper, $4.99 (0-380-71907-X).

Gr. 6-9. When Philip, a high-school freshman, is suspended for humming along with the national anthem during homeroom period, the reactions of his parents, peers, school officials, and the media are reported in documentary fashion. The widely differing viewpoints illustrate the difficulty of establishing the parameters of free speech.

Clements, Andrew.
The Landry News. Illus. by Salvatore Murdocca. 1999. 128p. Simon & Schuster, $15 (0-689-81817-3); Aladdin, paper, $4.99 (0-689-82868-3).

Gr. 3-7. Hoping to rouse a once-inspiring, now defeated teacher, Cara writes an editorial about his lackluster teaching in her newspaper. Cara successfully jolts Mr. Larson into action, but her column has an impact that she didn't foresee. Well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and humor make this an engaging discussion of the freedom of speech and the responsibilities of the media.

Hentoff, Nat.
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. 1983. 176p. Dell, paper, $4.99 (0-440-91814-6).

Gr. 7-up. In this provocative novel, controversy breaks out at a local high school where students are reading Huckleberry Finn. The community is divided and the incident begins to draw national attention, as well.

Hurwitz, Johanna.
Once I Was a Plum Tree. Illus. by Ingrid Fetz. 1992. 160p. Morrow, paper, $3.95 (0-688-11848-8).

Gr. 4-7. For a 10-year-old Jewish girl, having two Catholic best friends highlights her confusion over and awareness of the prejudices people have about her religion.

Krensky, Stephen.
The Printer's Apprentice. Illus. by Madeline Sorel. 1995. 112p. Bantam, $18.95 (0-385-44631-4); paper, $4.99 (0-440-91268-7).

Gr. 5-8. Through the eyes of a young printer's apprentice, Krensky tells of the trial of John Peter Zenger, a 1700s New York newspaper publisher, whose landmark case significantly affected American journalism.

Lasky, Kathryn.
Memoirs of a Bookbat. 1994. 192p. Harcourt, $10.95 (0-15-215727-1); paper, $6 (0-15-201259-1).

Gr. 7-9. Harper Jessup, an avid reader, runs away because she feels that her individual rights are threatened when her parents, born-again fundamentalists, lodge a public promotion of book censorship.

Meyer, Carolyn.
Drummers of Jericho. 1995. 336p. Harcourt, $11 (0-15-200441-6); paper, $5 (0-15-200190-5).

Gr. 7-up. When a 14-year-old Jewish girl joins the high-school marching band and discovers that the band will play hymns and stand in the formation of a cross, she objects, raising major issues of individual rights.

Miles, Betty.
Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book. 1981. 140p. Avon, paper, $2.95 (0-380-55541-7).

Gr. 4-7. When Kate reads a book that contains a passage about the birth of a puppy to a group of first-graders, she finds herself embroiled in a censorship battle that eventually engulfs the entire town.

Oneal, Zibby.
A Long Way to Go: A Story of Women's Right to Vote. Illus. by Michael Dooling. 1992. 64p. Puffin, paper, $4.99 (0-14-032950-1).

Gr. 2-5. In 1917, eight-year-old Lila's grandmother is an advocate for the right of women to vote, and Lila herself takes a stand for her freedom of speech when she persuades her father to allow her to march with her grandmother and other suffragettes.

Peck, Richard.
The Last Safe Place on Earth. 1995. 176p. Bantam, $20.95 (0-385-30995-3); paper, $4.99 (0-440-91152-4).

Gr. 5-up. In a seemingly quiet, calm suburb, a censorship battle heats up as various groups attempt to ban books whose views they don't find agreeable. Tenth-grader Todd also learns that his crush, Laura, is a fundamentalist Christian who has convinced Todd's younger sister that Halloween is evil. A bit heavy-handed, the story is still engaging, and the prose rather poetic.

Tolan, Stephanie S.
Save Halloween! 1993. 176p. Morrow, $16 (0-688-12168-3); paper, $4.95 (0-688-15497-2).

Gr. 5-8. Sixth-grader Johnna Filkings gets caught up in researching and writing a class pageant about Halloween; much to her dismay, her father and uncle, fundamentalist ministers, disrupt the entire community by declaring Halloween evil.

Second Amendment-Right to Bear Arms

dePaola, Tomie.
The Hunter and the Animals: A Wordless Picture Book. 1981. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-0397-1); paper, $6.95 (0-8234-0428-5).

K-Gr. 3. Solely through pictures, this book tells the story of a lost hunter who is helped by the animals, changing his ideas about killing for sport. The absence of words will stimulate original thinking on the topic and encourage children to verbalize their own feelings.

Gilbert, Barbara Snow.
Paper Trail. 2000. 224p. Front Street, $16.95 (1-886-91044-8).

Gr. 7-12. Fifteen-year-old Walker Morgan and his parents are members of the Soldiers of God, a militia group in Oklahoma, but become fugitives when the community discovers that Walker's father is an FBI agent.

Johnson, Scott K.
I Can't Wait Till I'm Old Enough to Hunt with Dad. Illus. by Karen Johnson. 1995. 32p. Deer Pond Publishing, o.p.

Gr. 1-3. Though the text and art are less than inspired, this first-person picture book about a father and son's hunting experiences fills a niche in providing a positive view of the sport.

Keith, Harold.
Rifles for Watie. 1987. 352p. HarperCollins, $14.89 (0-360-01604-2); paper, $4.95 (0-06-447030-X).

Gr. 6-9. In this 1958 Newbery Medal winner, Jeff Bussey experiences the Civil War from both sides when he enlists in the Union army and later, to keep from being branded a spy, pretends to join a Confederate general's ranks. For older readers,
Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen (1998, Delacorte) offers a stunningly traumatic account of another young soldier's experiences in the Civil War.

Myers, Walter Dean.
Scorpions. 1988. 216p. HarperCollins, $14.95 (0-06-024364-3); paper, $4.95 (0-06-440623-7).

Gr. 7-10. When one of his brother's friends gives 12-year-old Jamal a handgun, the temptation to feel powerful in the dangerous world in which he lives becomes overwhelming.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw.
A Family Goes Hunting. Illus. by William Munoz. 1991. 64p. Clarion, $14.95 (0-395-52004-5).

Gr. 4-7. Though it's not fiction, this photo-essay about a family in Montana going hunting shows another side of gun use. The focus, on safety and responsibility and the family's appreciation of nature, avoids the controversial aspect of the sport.

Smith, K.
Skeeter. 1989. 208p. Houghton, $13.95 (0-395-49603-9); paper, $5.95 (0-395-61621-2).

Gr. 5-9. In this poignant coming of age story, two boys with a passion for hunting forge an unlikely friendship with an elderly African American neighbor, culminating in their suspenseful pursuit of a giant buck.

Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories about Guns. Edited by Harry Mazer. 1997. 229p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32238-0); paper, $4.99 (0-440-22002-5).

Gr. 7-10. This collection of short stories for older readers shows how guns impact the lives of teens. Drawn in part from the authors' own experiences, these stories by the likes of Walter Dean Myers, Richard Peck, and Rita Williams-Garcia cover everything from hunting to suicide to murder on the subway.

Walter, Virginia.
Making Up Megaboy. Illus. by Katrina Roeckelein. 1998. 64p. DK Ink, $16.95 (0-7894-2488-6); Delacorte, paper, $8.95 (0-385-32686-6).

Gr. 6-9. When Robbie takes a gun from his father's drawer and kills a liquor store owner, the question why haunts everyone who knows him. But Robbie himself never talks. Marked by ever-changing viewpoints and comic-style graphics, this thought-provoking novel will raise more questions than it answers, making it intriguing fodder for classroom discussion.

Third Amendment-Lodging Troops

Borden, Louise.
Sleds on Boston Common-A Story from the American Revolution. Illus. by Robert Andrew Parker. 2000. 40p. Simon & Schuster, $17 (0-689-82812-8).

K-Gr. 3. In 1774, nine-year-old Henry Price's only birthday wish is to test the new wooden sled his father has made for him. But the arrival of thousands of British troops, who set up camp on Boston Common, prevents the children from sledding, skating, or playing in the snow.

Gauch, Patricia L.
This Time, Tempe Wick? 1992. 48p. Putnam, $13.95 (0-399-21880-7).

Preschool-Gr. 3. A young girl helps the Revolutionary soldiers who camp on her New Jersey farm in 1780, until they steal her horse-then she gets mad.

Fourth Amendment-Search and Seizure

Denenberg, Barry.
The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp. 1999. 160p. Scholastic, $10.95 (0-590-48531-8).

Gr. 5-8. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans became the targets of hatred and were forced into internment camps. This fictional diary chronicles the painful experience of Ben, sent to a camp with his mother and sister while his father is taken from them.

Garrigue, Sheila.
The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito. 1994. 176p. Aladdin, paper, $4.50 (0-689-71809-8).

Gr. 4-6. Sara, a World War II British evacuee in Vancouver, is powerless to stop the detention of her friend Mr. Ito, along with other Japanese Canadians, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Gauch, Patricia L.
Thunder at Gettysburg. Illus. by Stephen Gammell. 1990. 48p. Putnam, $14.95 (0-399-22201-4); paper, $3.50 (0-440-41075-4).

Preschool-Gr. 3. At first, Tilly watches the Battle of Gettysburg from her attic window as though it were a circus. But soon she finds herself drawn into the terrible and seemingly unending fray.

Hamanaka, Sheila.
The Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism, & Renewal. 1990. 40p. Orchard, $19.95 (0-531-05849-2); paper, $8.95 (0-531-07060-3).

Gr. 5-up. Using details from a five-panel mural, Hamanaka depicts the plight of Japanese Americans in World War II. Well researched and documented, this title would pair well with
The Journal of Ben Uchida,
The Eternal Spring of Mr. Ito,
Under the Blood-Red Sun, or
Journey to Topaz (all in this section). Salisbury, Graham.
Under the Blood-Red Sun. 1994. 244p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32099-X); paper, $4.99 (0-440-91055-2).

Gr. 5-9. Hawaiin-born Tomi and his Japanese parents cannot escape the tensions and hysteria following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. After his father and grandfather are sent to a prison camp, Tomi realizes that, in their community's eyes, they have become the enemy.

Uchida, Yoshiko.
Journey to Topaz. Illus. by Donald Carrick. 1985. 160p. Creative Arts, paper, $9.95 (0-916870-85-5).

Gr. 6-up. In this illustrated reissue of a 1971 title, 11-year-old Yuki and her family endure shameful treatment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. See also the sequel,
The Journey Home (Simon and Schuster, 1978).

Fifth Amendment-Rights of the Accused; Sixth Amendment-Criminal Proceedings; Seventh Amendment-Jury Trial; Eighth Amendment-Bail and Punishment

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Illus. by Ruth E. Murray. 1990. 224p. Orchard, $16.95 (0-531-05893-X); Avon, paper, $4.99 (0-380-71475-2).

Gr. 6-10. In 1832, 13-year-old Charlotte has little chance of receiving a fair trial under the evil captain who commands the Seahawk, bound for Rhode Island from England.

Danziger, Paula.
Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? 1980. 160p. Putnam, paper, $3.99 (0-698-11688-7).

Gr. 7-up. Lauren contemplates suing her parents, who are too busy with their own problems, after taking a class on the rights of minors.

Ferguson, Alane.
Cricket and the Crackerbox Kid. 1992. 192p. Avon, paper, $3.50 (0-380-71341-1).

Gr. 5-up. When two children both claim a much-loved dog, their teacher decides judgment will be rendered by a jury of their peers. A classroom trial is set up, with the two fifth-graders mounting their own defenses.

Lasky, Kathryn.
Beyond the Burning Time. 1994. 176p. Scholastic, $14.95 (0-590-47331-X); paper, $4.50 (0-590-47332-8).

Gr. 7-9. Twelve-year-old Mary Chase documents the growing terror and mass hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials as she tries to reverse her convicted mother's death sentence. Newbery Medal winner
Witch of Blackbird Pond (Houghton, 1958) by Elizabeth Speare also uses the Salem witchcraft trials as its setting.

Myers, Walter Dean.
Monster. Illus. by Christopher Myers. 1999. 281p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-060-28077-8).

Gr. 7-11. Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for his role in a fatal shooting, and the reader becomes both witness and juror as the court case proceeds and the suspect's recollections of the crime surface.

Taylor, Mildred. D.
The Gold Cadillac. 1987. 48p. Dial, $15.99 (0-8037-0342-2); Puffin, paper, $3.99 (0-14-038963-6).

Gr. 4-7. A black man and his family head south in his highly revered gold Cadillac, but his arrest by the police changes their course of action.

Ninth Amendment-Rights Reserved to the People

Cormier, Robert.
I Am the Cheese. 1977. 224p. Knopf, $20 (0-394-83462-3); Dell, paper, $5.50 (0-440-94060-5).

Gr. 7-12. Perceptive teachers can help students make the connection between the Witness Protection Act and this powerful story about a boy caught in the machinations of an adult world.

Tenth Amendment-Powers Reserved to the States

Bridges, Ruby.
Through My Eyes: The Autobiography of Ruby Bridges. 1999. 64p. Scholastic, $16.95 (0-590-18923-9).

Gr. 3-9. Though it's not fiction, this memoir from the first African American pupil to attend a formerly segregated school in New Orleans in 1960 lends itself well to a classroom discussion of states' rights and school integration.

Wilkinson, Brenda.
Not Separate, Not Equal. 1987. 152p. HarperCollins, o.p.

Gr. 4-7. In 1965, Malene Freeman is caught in the angry crossfire of a Georgia town faced with school integration.

Related Titles

Fritz, Jean.
The Great Little Madison. 1989. 48p. Putnam, $15.95 (0-399-21768-1); paper, $5.99 (0-698-11621-6).

Gr. 4-7. An excellent biography of the man called the Father of the Constitution.

Fritz, Jean.
Shh! We're Writing the Constitution. Illus. by Tomie de Paola.1997. 64p. Putnam, $15.99 (0-399-21403-8); paper, $5.99 (0-698-11624-0).

Gr. 3-7. A lively tale of the writing of the Constitution during a sweltering summer, this book will illuminate the basic issues of the Constitutional Convention and provide an understanding of the major players.

Krull, Kathleen. A Kid's Guide to America's Bill of Rights: Curfews, Censorship, and the 100-Pound Giant. Illus. by Anna Divito. 1999. 226p. Avon, $16 (0-380-97497-5).

Gr. 4-7. Krull has taken the first 10 amendments and made their often difficult language understandable for students. Using anecdotes, sidebars, and political issues, the author helps kids understand not only the meanings of the amendments but also explains their relevance and how they apply in our daily lives.

Maestro, Betsy. The Voice of the People: American Democracy in Action. Illus. by Giulio Maestro. 1996. 48p. Lothrop, $16 (0-688-10678-1).

Gr. 3-5. Colorful illustrations complement the clear, understandable writing of this informative book. The text explains many complicated aspects of the U.S. Constitution in a manner accessible to students. A good companion to A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution by the same author and illustrator (Econo-Clad, 1999).

Meltzer, Milton. The Bill of Rights: How We Got It and What It Means. 1990. 180p. HarperCollins, $15 (0-690-04805-X).

Gr. 6-9. This comprehensive discussion of the history of the Bill of Rights gives specific references to contemporary challenges against these 10 amendments.

Quiri, Patricia Ryon. The Bill of Rights. 1998. 48p. Children's Press, $22 (0-5162-0661-3); paper, $6.95 (0-5162-6427-3).

Gr. 3-6. This book for younger children explains what the Bill of Rights is, and what rights these amendments bestow upon us. Quiri clearly paraphrases each of the 10 amendments and discusses why and how the amendments are continually reinterpreted by the courts. Also see The Declaration of Independence by the same author (Children's Press, 1998).

Weiss, Ann E. God and Government: The Separation of Church and State. 1990. 132p Houghton, paper, $5.95 (0-395-54977-9).

Gr. 7-up. Weiss analyzes church-state relations, considering areas where the two support each other as well as those in which the two are in conflict.

Weiss, Ann E. Who's to Know?: Information, the Media and Public Awareness. 1990. 192p. Houghton, $14.95 (0-395-49702-7).

Gr. 5-9. The complex issues of media censorship are raised as Weiss discusses factors that may interfere with the public's right to know.

Students' Rights

  • Greenberg, Keith. Adolescent Rights: Are Young People Equal under the Law? 1995. 64p. Twenty-First Century, $18.90 (0-8050-3877-9).
  • Nunez, Sandra Joseph, and Trish Marx. And Justice for All: The Legal Rights of Young People. 1997. 174p. Millbrook, $22.40 (0-7613-0068-6).

Barbara Elleman, founding editor of Book Links, is now a distinguished scholar of children's literature at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.