Which Side Are You On? by George Ella Lyon
The Story of a Song

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Synopsis

Which Side Are You On? tells the story of the classic union song that was written in 1931 by Florence Reece in a rain of bullets. It has been sung by people fighting for their rights all over the world. Florence's husband Sam was a coal miner in Kentucky. Many of the coal mines were owned by big companies, who kept wages low and spent as little money on safety as possible. Miners lived in company houses on company land and were paid in scrip, good only at the company store. The company owned the miners sure as sunrise.

That's why they had to have a union. Miners went on strike until they could get better pay, safer working conditions, and health care. The company hired thugs to attack union organizers like Sam Reece.

George Ella Lyon tells this hair-raising story through the eyes of one of Florence's daughters, a dry-witted, pig-tailed gal whose vantage point is from under the bed with her six brothers and sisters. The thugs' bullets hit the thin doors and windows of the company house and the kids lying low wonder whether they're going to make it out of this alive; wonder exactly if this strike will make their lives better or end them, but their mother keeps scribbling and singing. "We need a song," she tells her kids. That's not at all what they think they need. Graphic novelist Christopher Cardinale brings Florence's triumphant story to life in true rip-roaring union style.

Selected as an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society and a 2012 Skipping Stones Honor Book.


 

About George Ella Lyon

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George Ella Lyon was born and raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, the daughter of a dry-cleaner and a community worker. She grew up with one older brother in a house full of music, stories, and books. Her first ambition was to be a neon sign maker. Much later, she planned to be a folk singer in Greenwich Village. Finally she realized it was the music in the words she was after, and she has been after it ever since. Lyon is the author of With a Hammer for My Heart (a novel), Catalpa (poems, winner of the Appalachian Book of the Year Award) and Where I'm From, Where Poems Come From, a primer for young poets. Her books for young readers include five novels (Borrowed Children, The Stranger I Left Behind, and Here and Then), 22 picture books (among them Come a Tide, Together, Who Came Down That Road?, Counting on the Woods and Book), and an an autobiography, A Wordful Child. Married to musician Steve Lyon, she lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and has two sons.Christopher Cardinale had a rootless upbringing following his educator parents through five states from Ohio to New Mexico. Independently, he continued his nomadic life in Guatamala and Mexico, finally settling in Brooklyn, New York. Inspired by Mexican muralism and anarchist punk collectives, Christopher works within marginally defined communities, painting murals whose subjects include the anti-globalization and anti-war movements. His large-scale murals can be viewed in New York, Italy, Greece and Mexico. Publishing credits include a story in the Wobblies, a graphic history of industrial workers of the world; extensive features in the legendary WW3 Illustrated Magazine; and his riveting depiction of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans became the first cover story comic in Punk Planet's history. He is currently working on a graphic novel celebrating his passion for cycling, which includes poignant graphic memorials about those who've been killed by cars while biking.
 
Published October 4, 2011 by Cinco Puntos Press. 40 pages
Genres: History, Comics & Graphic Novels, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, Children's Books.

Unrated Critic Reviews for Which Side Are You On?

Kirkus Reviews

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The song, based on a hymn tune and lyrics, rose up from coal miners' strikes in Harlan County, Ky., in the 1930s.

Sep 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Which Side Are You On?: The S...

Publishers Weekly

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Writing in the folksy voice of the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner, Lyon (All the Water in the World) tells the story of the genesis of a pro-union song written by Florence Reece (the fictionalized narrator’s mother) in 1931.

Sep 19 2011 | Read Full Review of Which Side Are You On?: The S...

New York Journal of Books

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The children in the story may not understand why the union is so important, but Ma tries to explain, noting, “This ain’t easy, but sometimes you’ve got to take a stand.”The story is told with simple, down-home language, helping to make a tough subject accessible, and readers will enjoy Omie’s wry...

Oct 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Which Side Are You On?: The S...

New York Journal of Books

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On the back of a calendar page, she scribbles the words of a song she thinks will stoke the courage of the miners striking for better pay and working conditions.Along with the dramatic story of that night, the lyrics of the famous song appear in script that unfurls in golden banners: “Come all yo...

Oct 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Which Side Are You On?: The S...

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