Book review: Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution, by Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph

Sanders, Rob (author) and Jamey Christoph (illus.). Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. Random House Children’s Books. 2019. $17.99. 40p. HC. 978-1-5247-1952-4

“Two stable houses, side by side. For more than a hundred years, we witnessed history. Then came a night when we became part of history.” So begins Rob Sanders’s latest picture book, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. The first picture book ever released on the Stonewall Uprising, Sanders’s book – told from the perspective of the two stable houses that became the Stonewall Inn – hit shelves just in time for the event’s 50th anniversary and has been largely well-received. As a children’s librarian, I was excited to get my hands on a copy and see what all the fuss was about first-hand.

Jamey Christoph’s full-color digital illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to Sanders’s story, beautifully portraying the diverse, welcoming environment of New York’s changing Greenwich Village. When the tone of the text takes a dramatic turn halfway through – “Others were not as accepting. They thought those who gathered within our walls were too different.” – Christoph’s illustrations change with it, becoming darker and more foreboding. Before the story ends, however, Christoph’s illustrations change again, this time when the story moves beyond the uprising; here, on the last two spreads, readers encounter vibrant colors and sunny skies, the perfect match for Sanders’s optimistic tone.

On the negative side, the story is a bit cut-and-dry, skimming over the violence of police raids and the danger inherent in protesting. Given that Stonewall is geared toward children 5-9 years of age, however, these omissions are somewhat understandable; the book’s back matter – including photos and an interview with an uprising participant – allows for a closer look at the uprising itself. A more problematic shortcoming is the book’s centering of cis voices and perspectives. For instance, while the back matter makes specific note of the important role transgender individuals – in particular trans women of color – played in the uprising, they’re largely left out the story itself.

Still, this is such an important topic for young people to be introduced to, and having a book that presents the story in the simplest terms is a great jumping-off point for caregivers and educators.

-Kate Frick, New York Public Library


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