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Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song
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Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  95 ratings  ·  46 reviews
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. ...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Cinco Puntos Press (first published August 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 143)
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This children's picture book depicts the creation of the union folk song "Which Side Are You On?" in 1931 coal-mining Kentucky. It has attractive, bold illustrations and an easy-to-understand story. It accurately describes the coal mining union activity of the time period. I personally am always interested in the stories behind folklore. A book for children actively discussing labor is rare, which is one of the reasons I like it. However, I am sure it would also be the reason many people would n ...more
Mary Ellen
A gem of a book - inspiring personal narrative for kids of all ages. As much as the story, I enjoyed the Author's Note and the bios of the author and illustrator. Prepare to savor the words and pictures of this book, on the 80th anniversary of the song.
Edward Sullivan
Great story about Florence Reece, the wife of a coal miner, who wrote the classic union song in the midst of the bloody confrontation between company's hired guns and miners trying to organize in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Xin Luan
This book tells about the process of a union song was written by a mother. The production process happened in a rain of bullets. This song was written in 1931 and has been sung by people fighting for their rights all over the world.
It is a good book for music class. The story inspire students' interest in the song.They would are curious about this song. Then, they can find the song at the dust jacket. Teacher can teach students how to sing this song and help them understand what this song means
Craig Wiesner
These days, more often than not, one of us will be at the front counter of the shop opening boxes of new products when customers stroll in and just the other day twas so as I cracked open the pages of this book. "What's that?" a customer asked. I told her it was a book about unions and we went through the pages together. Both of us had moms who had been union organizers and the book brought back some great memories of our mothers and the work they did to make sure people got fair wages, good wor ...more
Jessica Richards
Which Side Are You on? The Story of a Song by George Ells Lyon is a wonderful book about the hardships of the life of a coal miner and his family in the rural Kentucky mountains. The book, written from the perspective of one of the miner's children, is filled with rich dialect and phrases that would be frequently used in the hills of the Appalachia. The illustrations on each page lend to the rough and hard times that the family experienced while living the life of a coal miners family. The pictu ...more
Liz Hammet
In the book, "Which Side Are You On?" by George Ella Lyon, there was a portrayal of a mining family from Hardin County, Kentucky in the past. This portrayal was realistic towards what it would have been like to be siding with the Union versus the "Company" during the time period of mining towns. I think this book would be an appropriate book to use in a 4th Grade classroom while the students are learning about Kentucky history, specifically Eastern Kentucky mining towns. This would be a good ap ...more
"Which Side Are You On?" demonstrates a particular family's experience with a 1931 coal-mining strike in the mountains of Kentucky. Through a nightmare of "raining bullets" and only a bed to protect themselves, a mother and her seven children hide from the men aiming to bring justice to their company by killing the family's father (Sam). Helpless and in distress, the mother (Florence Reese) begins writing a song.

"Come all you poor workers, Good news to you I'll tell, Of how the good old union, H
Linsey Ward
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Katie McGaha
I am in group #2 and we had to read Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song by George Ella Lyon. This book depicts a coal miner and his family in 1930's Harlan, Kentucky. The story is about the oppression of the coal workers and the attempts to destroy the coal worker union by the coal companies. I think this book is great for it's bold illustrations and historical account on a Kentucky Folk song. I was not familiar with the song, "Which Side Are You On?", so it was interesting to read an ac ...more
Elena Hitch
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Laken Doom
This book is one that would be beneficial in teaching history or music. A picture book written in 1931 by a Kentucky native known as Ma, Florence Reece. The story portrays a family and their journey throughout the miners strike. I personally really enjoyed the book and all it had to offer. The book is about a family who lives in Eastern Kentucky. The father of the 7 children; the narrator, Harvey, Hazel, Leonard, Elmer, James and the baby. The dad and husband known as "Pa" was a coal miner durin ...more
Emily Duncan
Which Side Are You On?; The Story of a Song by George Ella Lyon is based on a true story that is told from the perspective of a coal miner's son. The story is set during 1931 when Kentucky coal companies controlled most of the land. The family lives in a house owned by the coal company, on land provided by the company. Pa and the other coal miners decide it is time to rise up against the coal company and create a union while going on strike. The family hides in their home trying to escaping gun ...more
Morgan Elliott
Which Side Are You On? is a story coming from close to home, the Kentucky mountains. A hard-working coal miner, his wife and seven kids are all forced to stay together when their house is demolished by the sheriff and thugs. The mother, manages to keep her family safe and write a song dedicated to the union workers like her husband. This song is still remembered today, as well as the union members. "Poor folks ain't got a chance unless we organize!" is part of the popular union song. This book i ...more
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Elizabeth Sherry
I found the book, "Which Side Are You On," by George Ella Lyon, to be very unique in both good and bad ways. It was hard for me to decide on how many stars to give it because I did not personally like the book but it did teach about the hardships of Kentucky coal mining families in the 1930's during the Union strikes. The story is told by the point of view of one of the children in the book, describing what he see's and what is happening to his Harlan County family. Without the protection of the ...more
Julia Miller
This excellent book is an Aesop Prize winner endorsed by the American Folklore Society, and for good reason. The beautiful, woodcut-styling illuminates an interesting period in American history: the early days of workers' rights struggles.

It is a complex tale, simply told, and framed around a single night of terror that was lived through by the narrator herself. The text is active, wound in with the art to emphasise its meaning. It is the story of the birth of a song, which came into the world
Which Side Are You On?: The Story of a Song depicts the story of one family who has been negatively impacted by the creation of coal mining unions in Kentucky during the 1930's, simultaneously revealing the background behind a folk song that was created at this time, allowing students to see how music can influence society. Not only does it tell a historically accurate story, but it also shares the mother's vision of hope for those who can band together for a common cause through her song, which ...more
Aby Vela
I thought this book was very informative as well as endearing. I am not originally from Kentucky so unfortunately, I could not empathize with this story on a personal level. I did however take a course that studied Appalachia and learned many heart-wrenching things about the coal miners and their culture. I thought this story did a wonderful job of explaining the coal miners life, what a union was, and the importance of family. This subject is not light hearted by any means and it is great that ...more
Omie, the oldest child, tells this story. It’s the story of how her mother wrote the song “Which Side Are You On” while the family home was blasted by bullets and all seven children were huddled under the bed. This is 1931 in Harlan County, Kentucky, and there’s a union strike at a coal mine. The children’s father, Sam Reece, is a union organizer. The bullets are meant for him, but the children’s mother, Florence Reece, has warned him to stay away from home, so he’s headed towards the mountains ...more
Social justice comes in many different forms, and this picture book shows the results of greed in the hills of Kentucky. Set in 1931 when some of the local coal miners band together to create a union and strike for better working conditions for their members, the story centers on one family's experience during those times. After their father, a union organizer, flees the area to avoid repercussions. his family remains at home, forced to hide under the bed as company men shoot into the house. Ma ...more
Danielle Krohn
Which Side Are You On? provides a historical reference for children to learn about the harsh living conditions for families during the 1930's Union strike in Kentucky. In this story, a concerned mother, Ma, demonstrates extreme courage and individual strength to protect her family. By writing a song, Florence Reece's hopes to motivate the laborers to fight for their work rights as coal miners and protect their families. As a result, Florence's song was very inspirational to other during this tim ...more
Holly Crepps
I thought that this book was well written, and especially useful for a history of Kentucky lesson. This story is about a family whose father is a coal miner. He is working with other workers to form a union. During this process, his family is being threatened, and Ma writes a song to unite all of the workers. This book's illustrations go well with the theme of the story. The pictures look rustic and antique, which fits well with the book because of its historical theme. This book is probably mos ...more
In celebration of the 80th anniversary of this song, George Ella Lyon writes how "Which Side Are You On?" came to be. In 1931, in the mountains of Kentucky, a family hid under a bed in a coal-company house, fearing for their lives while men paid by the mining company shoot at the house, aiming for the seven kids' daddy because he went on strike with the union. Florence, the kids' mother, writes a song in defense. Luckily, the family was unharmed and the song has been used by people fighting for ...more
George Ella Lyon
Christopher Cardinale
38 pages
Picture Book/Historical Fiction

I like the way the author wrote about this real life event (May, 1931) in the form of a story. This is a story about the writing of a song. The author uses and describes words such as unions, strikes, scabs, and scrip. I like how the author wrote authors notes in the back of the book describing the beginnings of unions in Kentucky and the unrest that followed for local families. I also like how the author pr
This book is about a family who is affected by the coal mining industry. The father wants to form a union and puts his family in risk. To protect themselves from flying bullets the family had to take cover under the bed. While taking cover the mom writes a song. This song in the end brings the union together.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend this book for older grades. The book did a good job incorporating the song into the story line. Throughout the whole book I asked mysel
Kristen Wilson
I gave this book a rating of three stars because i felt as though many young children wouldnt understand the book unless they were educated on coal miners and the mining companies. At the end of the book it doesn demonstrate that if we all come together that we can get things done to better ourselves and the lives of others. All in all i just fell that if a student were to pick up this book in a library that they would not really enjoy reading the book even though as they get older than can reme ...more
Edward ott
Read it with my children and they all said which side they're on
Jordan Bramblett
Personally, I didn't really like this book much at all. I believe the message behind it was a good one - It will allow children to better understand the things that would happen to families of those who worked in the coal mining industry and how scary it could be. Children can understand that things like this really did take place and as a result, people lost their homes, jobs, and even their own lives. These times were important in creating fair work places where employees were treated like act ...more
This was an interesting picture book I had not heard of, but found at the library. I think I could use it in Social Studies for Industrialization. It teaches why coal miners in Harlan County KY organized a union. It does a nice job of making the reasons miners needed a union very clear for young readers. I think it would help the kids understand this time period better than any other resource I have for it at school.'s all based on a true story of the woman who penned the song "Which Si ...more
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George Ella Lyon is a Kentucky author who has published in many genres, including picture books, poetry, juvenile novels, and articles.
More about George Ella Lyon...
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