written by Ann Malaspina; illustrated by Steve James
2012 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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With the media's strong focus on the voting preferences of women in the upcoming 2012 general election, it is the perfect timing for a book about a woman who helped lead the fight for women's suffrage. Heart on Fire, a free verse recounting of Susan B. Anthony's vote in the 1872 election, starts with a juxtaposition of the 14th and 19th amendments on the first page. It was Anthony's contention that anyone who paid taxes, owned property, held a job, or raised children was covered by the 14th amendment. This seemed like a logical argument to the inspectors at the voter registration office, so they allowed her to register to vote a mere four days before the election. Anthony, along with fifteen other women, proceeded to vote four days later. Two weeks later, a federal marshal tapped on her door. He had come to arrest her for voting. It is at this point in the book where you can teach a lesson on voting irregularities and how people can still be arrested today for not voting in the proper manner. Anthony was not pleased that her lawyer posted one thousand dollars bail as she would rather have gone to jail and not give the court any money. Before the trial began, Susan B. Anthony visited many cities and towns to argue her case against denying women the right to vote. The United States v. Susan B. Anthony opened on June 23, 1873. Anthony was not allowed to speak during the trial, but instead had to rely on her lawyer to present her side of the story. After being found guilty of illegally voting, the judge asked if she had anything to say. This was the opportunity for Susan B. Anthony to speak and speak she did. She explained that her rights had been ignored. Despite the banging of the irritated judge's gavel, Anthony kept on speaking. During sentencing, she was ordered to pay one hundred dollars plus court costs, but she never paid one cent of it. Susan B. Anthony was defiant and won some measure of satisfaction although she would not live to see the day women could legally vote in an election.
Heart on Fire is a terrific account of a historical (yes, I had to look up "a or an before h") event. Ann Malaspina is able to convey Susan B. Anthony's determined drive for women's suffrage in an accessible text for upper elementary students. This book could open discussions about the role of women in American society and how it has changed. I would pair it with Grace for President which is a picture book featuring a young lady running for school president because she has no role models on the national stage. You could also use this book to discuss why it is important to vote and what this right has meant to different groups of people in our history.