Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders

J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrator:  Illustrated by five notable illustr 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2013 

For centuries human societies have been rife with injustices and inequalities. Often change only happened when “The poor and dispossessed take up the drums / for civil rights – freedoms to think and speak, / Petition, pray and vote.” Often these uprisings, when the meek voices of the many became a roll of thunder, where led by one person, a person who dared to step forward and risk everything to speak out against injustice.

   In this remarkable book J. Patrick Lewis presents readers with poems about seventeen people who fought “for the equal rights of mankind.” Many suffered deeply for daring to stand against the status quo, and some even died for their convictions.

   On these pages we meet Aung San Suu Kyi who has fought for the rights of the Burmese people for decades. Often she was under house arrest, not allowed to see her friends and family members. For her courage she was awarded many prizes, included the Nobel Peace Prize “for defending / the rights of my people” against the generals who would oppress them. When she “refused food to protest my detention,” the general, her enemy “stuffed himself on mangoes / and banana pudding.”

   Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Mitsuye Endo was held captive by her own government. A simple typist “nothing more,” she was taken to a Japanese internment camp after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. She had committed no crime and yet she was treated like a criminal. Many of the internees accepted their captivity without a murmur, but Endo did not. She spoke out and challenged the government’s right to imprison her and other patriotic citizens based on their ancestry.

    Another person who spoke out against injustice was Harvey Milk, who dared to say that people who were gay should not have to hide who and what they are. He even became a “city father” so that he could contest the laws that “kept / boys and girls from living lives / that Life would not accept.” He felt that he had to do his part to fight against the “small-mindedness” that causes so much suffering.

   Readers will be greatly moved by J. Patrick Lewis’s poems, some of which are written in the first person. Each one is a gem, a reminder that our rights should never be taken for granted. Somewhere someone had to fight for them.

   At the back of the book readers will find further information about the seventeen activists who are featured in the book. 

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