Which Side Are You On?

Which Side Are You On? Cover

Which Side Are You On?

The Story of a Song

By George Ella Lyon; Christopher Cardinale (Illustrator)

Cinco Puntos Press, Hardcover, 9781933693965, 36pp.

Publication Date: October 4, 2011


Which Side Are You On? tells the story of the classic union song that was written in 1931 by Florence Reece in a rain of bullets. It has been sung by people fighting for their rights all over the world. Florence's husband Sam was a coal miner in Kentucky. Many of the coal mines were owned by big companies, who kept wages low and spent as little money on safety as possible. Miners lived in company houses on company land and were paid in scrip, good only at the company store. The company owned the miners sure as sunrise.

That's why they had to have a union. Miners went on strike until they could get better pay, safer working conditions, and health care. The company hired thugs to attack union organizers like Sam Reece.

George Ella Lyon tells this hair-raising story through the eyes of one of Florence's daughters, a dry-witted, pig-tailed gal whose vantage point is from under the bed with her six brothers and sisters. The thugs' bullets hit the thin doors and windows of the company house and the kids lying low wonder whether they're going to make it out of this alive; wonder exactly if this strike will make their lives better or end them, but their mother keeps scribbling and singing. "We need a song," she tells her kids. That's not at all what they think they need. Graphic novelist Christopher Cardinale brings Florence's triumphant story to life in true rip-roaring union style.

Selected as an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society and a 2012 Skipping Stones Honor Book.

About the Author
George Ella Lyon was born and raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, the daughter of a dry-cleaner and a community worker. She grew up with one older brother in a house full of music, stories, and books. Her first ambition was to be a neon sign maker. Much later, she planned to be a folk singer in Greenwich Village. Finally she realized it was the music in the words she was after, and she has been after it ever since. Lyon is the author of With a Hammer for My Heart (a novel), Catalpa (poems, winner of the Appalachian Book of the Year Award) and Where I'm From, Where Poems Come From, a primer for young poets. Her books for young readers include five novels (Borrowed Children, The Stranger I Left Behind, and Here and Then), 22 picture books (among them Come a Tide, Together, Who Came Down That Road?, Counting on the Woods and Book), and an an autobiography, A Wordful Child. Married to musician Steve Lyon, she lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and has two sons. Christopher Cardinale had a rootless upbringing following his educator parents through five states from Ohio to New Mexico. Independently, he continued his nomadic life in Guatamala and Mexico, finally settling in Brooklyn, New York. Inspired by Mexican muralism and anarchist punk collectives, Christopher works within marginally defined communities, painting murals whose subjects include the anti-globalization and anti-war movements. His large-scale murals can be viewed in New York, Italy, Greece and Mexico. Publishing credits include a story in the Wobblies, a graphic history of industrial workers of the world; extensive features in the legendary WW3 Illustrated Magazine; and his riveting depiction of Hurricane Katrina s aftermath in New Orleans became the first cover story comic in Punk Planet s history. He is currently working on a graphic novel celebrating his passion for cycling, which includes poignant graphic memorials about those who ve been killed by cars while biking. "

Praise For Which Side Are You On?

"The story is a good and important one, and it is well told for an elementary-school audience...Cardinale’s folksy, woodcut-style paintings include several memorable images."—The New York Times

"What a perfect time for this picture book’s arrival...Which Side Are You On?" is an old song with new relevance for a generation facing a dubious future."
NY Journal of Books

"The story has real power and so do the best of the illustrations."—Booklist

"Which Side Are You On? is beautiful, lyrical, and important, subtly showing us the importance of music andeven betterhow anyone can make a difference, no matter their circumstances, as long as they put their heart and soul into it. A treasure."Silas House, author of Eli the Good

"It’s a high-stakes account of grace under pressure."Publisher's Weekly

"Cardinale's digitally colored scratchboard art is dynamic…Given that many of the same [labor] conditions exist today, only changed by mechanization, the music and lyrics included may well find use in the current generation. Lyon has given today's readers a stirring story."Kirkus Reviews

"Lyon and Cardinale make a perfect match for this picture-book homage to a 1931 rallying cry born under duress in Harlan County, Ky… Although this book describes a historical event, it can open a gateway to understanding terms such as "collective bargaining," what that right has meant, and to consider what it means today."Shelf Awareness