What Is Congress? by Jill Abramson, illustrated by David Malan

What Is Congress? by Jill Abramson, illustrated by David Malan. Penguin Workshop, 2021. 9780593223703

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Paperback

What did you like about the book? The development of the United States Congress is covered from its origins in colonial America through the insurrection of January 6, 2021.  Discussion about the creation of Congress as part of the new government formed in 1787 includes an explanation of why there are two separate houses, and describes the role of Congress in creating and passing laws.  A detailed description of the construction and layout of the Capitol building, as well as some of the odd customs (such as the ‘candy desk’) are included.  Particular attention is given to the context of slavery versus states’ rights, and how disagreement about it in Congress dominated the early 19th century and led to secession, the Civil War, and the passage of 13th Amendment.  The role of the legislative branch during many significant American historical events – from Reconstruction to Watergate – is addressed, especially regarding the relationship between Congress and the president at any given time.

As it considers both the history of the institution and the procedures by which it operates, What Is Congress? covers a great deal in a slim volume, but it does so in a readable way that will be helpful for classroom use.  Interesting anecdotes, such as the 1856 beating of Senator Charles Sumner, and references to relatively current events will pique the curiosity of readers.  Black and white illustrations throughout, as well as a 16-page insert of black and white photographs, bring some of the dryer sections to life.  Fact boxes and timelines provide further information, and there is a very short bibliography.

Anything you did not like about the book?  A useful reference book such as this should have an index.

 To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary social studies teachers should add it to their classroom libraries, as it can be read aloud in small doses for civics and history lessons.  It would likely have limited appeal as a casual library check-out, but some in 4th and 5th grade who enjoy politics would appreciate it for some solid background information.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Nonfiction – Dewey #328.73

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: October 5, 2021

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