For Memorial Day, We’re Reading the Constitution

Books referenced:

Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution!– Jean Fritz and Tomie dePaola, Puffin Books, 2017 (reprint of 1987 edition)

We the People: the Constitution of the United States – Peter Spier, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2014 (reprint of 1987 edition)

Who could forget the heartbreaking moment at the Democratic National Convention of 2016 when Mr. Khizr Khan, supported by his wife, Mrs. Ghazala Khan, pointedly offered to loan Donald Trump his pocket edition of the United State Constitution, a document that he correctly implied that Trump had never read? The Khans’ son, Captain Humayun Khan, had been killed in 2004, a casualty of the war in Iraq.  Trump, once an implausible candidate, but now, unbelievably, the president of the United States, has revealed on a daily basis his abject ignorance of our founders’ ideals, and is utterly unable to comply with his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution for which Captain Khan gave his life. In addition to sharing books about other soldiers who have made this sacrifice, through just and unjust wars, popular and unpopular conflicts, it is also a good day to help our children to understand what service to our country means. It does not mean using public office to enrich oneself and one’s family. It does not mean mocking those who have served, been captured, or killed. It does not mean issuing a fiat by twitter rejecting the service of transgender Americans. It does not mean assaulting and degrading women. It certainly does not mean deriding the immigrants who have contributed to every area of American life.


Jean Fritz tells the exciting and accessible tale of the men who hammered out the agreement necessary to sew together the disparate states in order to form a more perfect union.  Parents and teachers will want to explain in much greater detail how this work of genius included allowing slave owners to ensure their continued exploitation of African-American people and to exclude them from “the blessings of liberty” which the document promises.  The book’s chatty narrative style, in fact, makes it easier to engage in a conversation about American history, and how we are still participating in and perfecting the process that Fritz describes.  Tomie dePaola’s pictures bring the Constitution’s authors into the recognizable world where symbols become real people.


Peter Spier’s book is a beautiful tribute to the best of our inclusive country, the very nature of which Trump is so deeply suspicious that he needs to uproot and destroy it.  The book pairs the actual text of the Constitution with pictures of ordinary Americans throughout history engaged in the activities protected and enhanced by our founders’ vision, and, when they could not see far enough, by later generations.  We see diverse images of Americans becoming educated, enjoying leisure time, practicing our religion, serving in the military, working to support ourselves and our families, and using the systems of transportation that connect our vast space.

Thank you to all the fallen soldiers and to all the American families who suffered losses.  We the people still define how we will support and defend, or tragically, distort and erode it until it no longer works.  We need to give children the tools they need to make those decisions; good books help.



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