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What Is a Constitution? Review by Melissa ThebergeWilliam David Thomas
3001 Cindel Drive
Delran, NJ 08075
How do you really explain the need for a Constitution to children? The creative author of this book begins by likening the need to a new game on a playground. The children have fun at first, and then little by little rules are needed as the group grows. Eventually, the only way to continue playing is to have a full set of rules that everyone agrees to, after which play continues and the fun resumes. I think this analogy is a unique way to begin a book about our Constitution with a young child. I especially appreciate how the analogy is further developed at the beginning of each chapter to connect it to a child's practical life experience.
This book is a colorful, thirty-two page, American and global government lesson. Its five chapters include Rules of the Game, Plans for Governments, Creating the U.S. Constitution, Amendments, and State Constitutions. In the early chapters, the author describes the American government in relation to ancient and international systems in general, so comparisons can be related to Iroquois tribal laws, the Code of Hammurabi, the Magna Carta, and eventually to the Articles of Confederation.
The development of the U.S. Constitution is described in detail, including its original seven articles, and the ratification process. Additional boxed sections discuss the president's oath of office, the role of courts, and the preamble. Following this is an entire chapter dedicated to amendments and how they are made. Appropriately, the Bill of Rights is addressed in this section, as are later amendments and their significance. Failed amendments are also highlighted. The final chapter is dedicated to the more local Constitutions of each state and how individual citizens can become involved with their local governments.
This small soft-cover book is packed full of information, excellent photographs, and critical details from source documents, all important features for the fourth through sixth grade audience. In addition, it uses bold print to draw attention to important words found in the glossary, and it includes a list of additional reading and websites for further study. My only complaint with this book is that its one photo of a state leader is of the California governor, with a caption naming him "the Governator" with reference to his film-making career. I would have preferred to see a reference that takes the office of governor more seriously, perhaps noting that even an internationally-born citizen can be governor.
That being said, What Is a Constitution? provides a concise and informative overview of our government and the how and why of its design. It makes excellent reading for an independent reader, but my intent will be to use it as a read-aloud for our early elementary learners as well. It has earned itself a permanent place on our American history reading shelf.