Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box
By Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein
Illustrated by James E. Ransome
(Candlewick Press, 2015, Somerville, Massachusetts, $16.99)
Before the mid-1960s, few African Americans voted. Although adults technically held the right to vote, many Southern states and towns manufactured a variety of legal devices to keep them from casting their ballots. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act attempted to eliminate all the restrictions – notably the poll taxes and “literacy” tests – Southern states used to prevent black citizens from voting.
Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box describes one African-American family’s first experience at the polls. Soon after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, author Michael S. Bandy’s grandfather decides to vote. Although the family owns a successful farm, none of the adults and none of their neighbors have ever voted. Bandy’s grandfather dons his Sunday suit, packs a camera, and has young Michael accompany him to the polls. There, both generations discover what the law has and has not changed about their lives.
Alternately infuriating and moving, Granddaddy’s Turn is a beautifully written account of one family’s experiences with voting rights and restrictions. Bandy and his co-author, Eric Stein, employ an understated first-person narrative to introduce young readers to segregation. And although the story illuminates injustice, the picture-book also celebrates the joys of farming and family. Readers hear the “cock-a-doodle doo” of young Michael’s rooster and his beloved Granddaddy say “Patience, son, patience” when the pair go fishing.
James E. Ransome’s illustrations also reflect this tension, capturing both the menace of segregation and the beauty of country life. One spread depicts Bandy’s grandfather proudly holding his ballot while young Michael photographs the momentous occasion; a sheriff’s deputy hovers uneasily in the background. Other spreads offer bucolic views of life on the farm with chickens, ducks, and even a cow grazing near the farmhouse. One particularly striking illustration shows young Michael and his grandfather wearing straw hats and toiling side by side in a field, their silhouettes illuminated by an enormous golden sun. Life is not easy for the family, the painting suggests, but they have each other, their pride in their work, and their joy in the landscape to sustain them.
By focusing one family’s experience, Bandy, Stein, and Ransome make the struggles of countless Americans tangible to young readers. Equally potent as a teaching tool and leisure time read, Granddaddy’s Turn is a powerful and very human look at a shameful chapter of American history.
-Dorothy A. Dahm