Unite or Die<br><font size=2>How Thirteen States Became a Nation</font>

Unite or Die
How Thirteen States Became a Nation

  • 795

By: Jacqueline Jules / Illustrated by: Jef Czekaj

The thirteen ORIGINAL colonies! Together again! One night only!

The children of Forest Lake Elementary School trod the boards in a dramatic reenactment of how the United States Constitution came to be. After the Revolution, the young United States was anything but united. The states acted like thirteen separate countries, with their own governments, laws, and currencies. It took bravery, smarts, and a lot of compromises to create a workable system of government under the new constitution.

Full of facts about our fledgling democracy, the call for a national government, and the Constitutional Convention, this book presents American history with personality, good humor, and energy. This show is not to be missed.

Jef Czekaj’s exuberant illustrations capture the excitement of opening night and the elation of the birth of a nation.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Jacqueline Jules, author

Jacqueline Jules is the author of several books for children, including Abraham’s Search for God (Kar-Ben) and The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle (Kar-Ben). Her poetry has been featured in over sixty publications, including Cricket, Cicada, and The Christian Science Monitor. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Read more about Jacqueline.

Jef Czekaj, illustrator

Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, musician, and poster artist who lives and works in Massachusetts. He is the illustrator of The Quest to Digest, The Circulatory Story, and he is the author/illustrator of A Call for a New Alphabet.

Read more about Jef.

Awards & Honors:

  • An NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12
  • Library of Virginia's Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children's Literature

Editorial Reviews:

School Library Journal

This presentation is written as if it were a school play about the 13 colonies becoming a nation. Told through colorful comic-book illustrations, it stars students dressed as states humorously explaining the path to the writing of the Constitution. The brief text is accompanied by speech balloons expressing the states’ multiple, often competing, views. Anecdotes such as Ben Franklin being a big talker, George Washington’s and Ben Franklin’s special chairs, and the secrecy of the meetings add interest and reveal the historical figures as being real people. Even then there were concerns about the press reporting on governmental procedures. The vividly colored spreads will hold the interest of even middle school students and would be useful to introduce how our form of government was created. Students will enjoy presenting this book as reader’s theater. Further information about the proceedings of the Continental Convention of 1787 is included in an afterword, and the notes section answers important questions not explained in the text. This is a great book to use along with Lane Smith’s John, Paul, George, and Ben

Kirkus Reviews

Memorable for the contrast between the melodramatic title and Czekaj's funny cartoon series of popeyed children putting on a low-budget stage play, this account of our Constitutional Convention should leave even less attentive readers with some idea of what the resultant document is all about. The curtain rises on players in state-shaped costumes running around shouting, "Hooray! Freedom!" In subsequent scenes they fall to squabbling ("I know what's best for me") under the weak Articles of Confederation, recognize the need for change and gather (all but Rhode Island, that is) in sweltering Philadelphia for long, secret negotiations--nearly failing to reach consensus until Connecticut proposes the Great Compromise over the nature of the two legislative houses. "Who will be the first to sign? George Washington, of course!" A lively way to kick off discussions of how the Constitution works and why it's still a living document, especially with readers too young to tackle Jean Fritz's Shh! We're Writing the Constitution


In this brightly illustrated picture book, children dressed in chunky, state-shaped costumes act out a play called "Unite or Die," which dramatizes problems that sprang up after the American revolution and the resolution at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Bound only by the Articles of Confederation, the little states begin by bickering about issues such as currency, borders, and trade. At the Constitutional Convention, they hammer away until they have created an entirely new federal government. Though the subject may not seem well suited to a picture-book format, Jules does a good job of presenting the essential ideas simply, And Czekaj's droll, cartoon-like illustrations may appeal to some students beyond the primary-grade range. Amusing remarks as well as bits of information are relayed in speech balloons, while each double-page spread a few sentences of text introduce the main ideas, as a narrator would. The book concludes with four pages of notes and a bibliography. An original presentation of a pivotal point in U.S. history.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

The abandonment of the Articles of Confederation in favor of a federal Constitution probably ranks among the more soporific U.S. history topics, particularly for grade-school students. Jules gives it a surprisingly engaging twist in this picture-book treatment, which features a cast of schoolkids putting on a play in which the arguments for and against adopting a Constitution and the details of equitable representation and individual rights are hashed out in kid-friendly dialogue: "My citizens are just as important as yours!" "We're not going to let you big states bully us!" The cartoon players sport a Simpsons-style wide-eyed and gape-mouthed zaniness that should keep even middle-schoolers amused, and even the homemade costuming and onstage antics offer hints of individual state positions on various issues--Rhode Island, absent from the Constitutional Convention, is asleep on the boards, while Virginia agonizes over whether she is primarily a Virginian or an American, and the Garden State of New Jersey balances a flower pot on her head. An afterword supplies extra commentary on the process and document, and notes in Q & A format refer to pages in the text where a little extra elucidation is in order. A bibliography of children's materials is appended, and a national archives URL is included with an encouraging "Read the Constitution for yourself!"

Children's Literature

History can sometimes be confusing to children, especially if there are facts that are hard to keep straight or remember; however, if the facts are made interesting and fun, children will remember them better. The author has taken the facts of the first thirteen states and written them in a unique form to help children remember what happened. Readers will learn, through the genre of a play, the known--and not so well known--facts about the first thirteen states. There are thirteen characters, played by children, representing the states. The illustrations show the reader each part of the play, how the characters are dressed, and each scene. Many details are given about the states but are in the form of the characters talking, discussing, and arguing back and forth to get their point across. Children will see the expressions on the faces of each state represented and learn from the dialogue as well as other words on each page. There are extra notes included in the back to give more interesting details about the story. Teachers would benefit from having this book in their classroom. They may even try to adapt it and perform a class play of their own.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-190-5

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-133-8
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 8-11
Page count: 48
8 1/2 x 11

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