Thursday, September 18, 2008


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Capstone Press deserves a cheer. Utilizing the accessible format of a graphic novel to highlight a diverse group of historical figures, the crew over at Capstone Press have provided students with an accessible inroad into the lives of the people who often battled outside the lines of power in ugly chapters of our history. One of the books in this series of graphic biographies – CESAR CHAVEZ: FIGHTING FOR FARMWORKERS – is a perfect example. The life and times, and battles, of the Chicano union organizer from California showcases the hardships of the Mexican and Latino communities struggling to make ends meet while being underhanded time and time again by the (mostly) white landowners for whom they worked.

CESAR CHAVEZ: FIGHTING FOR FARMWORKERS (written by Eric Braun and illustrated by Harry Roland, Al Milgrom, Steve Erwin and Charles Barnett III) brings us into Chavez's life from his upbringing as a child in a family of migrant workers; to the influence of Ghandi's peaceful protest that Chavez brought to the grape and produce fields of California; to the strike he underwent to bring unity to migrant workers and publicize the use of pesticides in the field; to the impact that the United Farm Workers union had on the country. Most of all, Chavez understood that violence would backfire against the larger movement for better pay and living conditions, and he urged peaceful confrontation. An informative glossary in the back of the book also reminds in 1994, a year after his death in 1993 (he had been in court testifying against a lettuce grower on the day he died), Chavez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work by President Bill Clinton. The other graphic novels in this series, including a history of the legendary Buffalo Soldiers, may generate interest in some of the histories of people who might be not be found inside class history books.

The story is more powerful than the artwork in these books, although that it not to say the graphics are not effective. Drawn in a very basic style that complements the text, the illustrations in CESAR CHAVEZ: FIGHTING FOR FARMWORKERS captures the emotions of the book's hero but much of the art lacks real detail. The faces seem a bit too cartoony for such a serious story, which is sort of strange, given the number of illustrators who were working on the novel. Still, the book works well as a graphic novel and the art moves the story along from major event to major event in a meaningful way.

In my opinion, this entire series merits a place in every classroom, even if it as an addendum to the regular curriculum. Certainly, CESAR CHAVEZ: FIGHTING FOR FARMWORKERS should raise the interest levels and knowledge of young readers and get them asking questions such as: What is a labor union and why is one needed? Why were Chicanos treated so poorly in the fields? What is a migrant worker? And, considering the recent political deliberations about immigration, how does the message of Cesar Chavez translate to the world today? All of these topics (and one more: the power of peaceful protest) would spark a discourse in any classroom, I would bet.

FORMAT: Paperback
COLOR: Full color
ISBN: 978-0-7368-9668-9
PUBLISHER: Capstone Press

This title is also available in an audio format.

I would highly recommend CESAR CHAVEZ: FIGHTING FOR FARMWORKERS for elementary and middle school students. The writing and artwork is a bit too simplistic for high school readers but could still be another resource for the classroom.

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