Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President
By Ann Malaspina
Illustrations by Steve James
The incident in Susan B. Anthony’s life when she was arrested and tried for the act of voting is highly dramatic and perfect for this lovely picture book biography. Congress passed the 14th Amendment with the intention of giving African-Americans citizenship but the wording is vague and had no reference to gender. Susan B. Anthony thought this was the ideal opening for her to stand up for her right to vote. So she shocked the man in charge of registering voters, registered and four days later voted in the general election, encouraging other women to vote. The next day she was arrested along with the women who voted and the men who registered them. She insisted on being jailed and tried in order to challenge the unwritten law prohibiting women from having the same rights as men. Once she was out on bail, she went to other cities and spoke about her case. She never had the privilege of voting, but by calling national attention to the injustice, the law was eventually changed.
This is a story that is sure to spark classroom discussion and may be more appropriate as a read aloud rather than independent reading even though the reading level is third grade. Young students may not understand that Susan B. Anthony’s world was quite different than theirs and the author waits well into the story to clarify this point. Also, the metaphor of lighting a fire with her actions is presented in such a way to seem literal. These stylistic issues affect the flow of the narrative and the reader will have to stop frequently to explain. There seems to be an expectation that the reader will know what is being referenced and, with a picture book audience, young readers do not have the background. The author’s note provides some of the “missing” information and a bibliography is included along with a photograph of Susan B. Anthony, a reproduction of her famous letter describing her voting and a political cartoon from the time. I appreciate the topic of this book because our young women and girls need to know that they have the right to vote because of some courageous women but the text of this one makes it a difficult read aloud.
The material is rich with possibility for reading activities because of the strong historical background. Since fifth grade studies American history, I can see this being a good cross-grade level reading activity where fifth graders can explain the background of this story to second or third graders who may be starting biography projects. Author website: http://www.annmalaspina.com/home.html.