Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Was It Really UNITE OR DIE in 1787? by Jacqueline Jules

“If we can’t agree on anything, how can we stay one country?”
“But we could have even bigger problems, if we break apart.”
--from Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation

In 1787, during a blistering hot Philadelphia summer, fifty-five delegates met behind locked doors at Independence Hall to confront a startling problem: America did not have a functioning national government. The thirteen states behaved like squabbling siblings. They fought over river rights and land boundaries. They didn’t honor each other’s money. When Massachusetts was faced with a rebellion, her sister states said, “Sorry! You’re on your own!”
Under the Articles of Confederation, most people considered themselves citizens of a particular state, not the United States of America. No one was in charge. The fledgling nation was like a blind octopus with thirteen arms.

A new government was essential for the United States to have a future. However, during the Constitutional Convention, the states were at a bitter impasse over the issue of representation in Congress. Benjamin Franklin called for prayer, and George Washington looked haggard, as if he were reliving the terrible days at Valley Forge. Delegates feared that if the Constitutional Convention collapsed, the country would, too. The United States came dangerously close to becoming an historical footnote rather than the powerful country it is today.

Such a dramatic time in our country’s history is perfect material for Reader’s Theater. In 2005, when I was working as a library media specialist, I wrote a four minute play for my students to present in celebration of Constitution Day. It focused on the problems between the states and the Connecticut Compromise, which convinced the delegates they could agree on a national government after all. My students had such a great time rehearsing and performing this skit, I decided to expand the material into a book.

The result was Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, featuring exuberant young actors from the imaginary school of Forest Lake Elementary, dramatizing the conflicts and compromises of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Illustrated by Nickelodeon Magazine comic strip artist, Jef Czekaj, the book presents students on stage, dressed as the thirteen original states, delivering their lines in speech bubbles.

A Reader’s Theater is available for students and teachers at the Charlesbridge website at http://www.charlesbridge.com/client/client_pdfs/downloadables/UniteorDie_ReadersTheater.pdf

And for a taste of the show, please visit youtube.com at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5oQ6NTjF_M&fmt=18

In addition to Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifteen children’s books including No English, Duck for Turkey Day, The Princess and the Ziz, Sarah Laughs, and the forthcoming Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off. For more information, please visit http://www.jacquelinejules.com/

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