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Sunday, September 2, 2012

People Who Said NO, written by Laura Scandiffio. Annick Press, 2012. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"Andrei Sakharov was about to be ushered into a world of secrets. Even the names of everything connected to the project were meant to hide what lay behind them. The "Ministry of  Medium Machine Building" was engaged in building a "device"; the laboratory, far from Moscow, where weapons were developed, was called "The Installation."  In early 1949, Sakharov was told he was being transferred from Tamm's team to work at the Installation."

You cannot read this book without being awed by the men and women who are the subject of this very informative and admirable look at their lives. What is it in them that makes them do what they do...take a stand against oppression? They are incredibly courageous in the face of frightening events, and they set such an example for the rest of the world for what it means to be willing to suppress everything else to take a stand and have a voice. It is testament to the fact that one person can, and has made a difference.

Could I do it? I don't think so. Why? I'm not sure of the answer to that question; I don't think I'm made of the 'stuff' it takes to stand up to the terror of unjust leaders and regimes. I would be terrified, I think. What would I do? I don't know. This book made me consider those questions seven times while reading it. Once for every heroic and undaunted person brought to our attention in this important new book.

The stories are as old as World War II and as new as the recent uprising in Egypt. Each person, or group of people, stood strong in the face of threats, incarceration and even death. Each story is personal and absorbing, terrifying at times and often so sad. They include the young Germans of The White Rose who fought against Hitler's tyranny and asked others to do the same, Rosa Parks and her refusal to leave her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Andrei Sakharov who worked endlessly for human rights, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was exiled from Moscow for speaking out, Helen Suzman who stood up to apartheid and brought the attention of the world to the way political prisoners were being treated, Oscar Romero who stood for the downtrodden against the rich  and powerful leaders ruling with injustice in El Salvador, Aung San Suu Kyi who wanted democracy for Burma and suffered house arrest for many years because of her beliefs and leadership, and finally the people of Egypt whose eighteen day protest resulted in the destruction of a regime of tyranny and lawlessness for so many.  

The author provides just enough background information and compelling action to help us understand why those people described made the decisions that they made, despite the dangers and the repercussions. It takes a lot of inner strength and tremendous conviction to live the lives that they led, and they are made more honorable when the audience is privy to the many reasons they chose to do what they did.

This is a book that is worthy of sharing in middle and high school classrooms one at a time in connection with curricular study, or as compelling stories of bravery in the face of oppression and worthy of our attention.

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