These are definitely different from anything I've looked at before and, most importantly, they don't just mention previously forgotten, overlooked, and oppressed characters, they center them in the narrative. In The Founders Unmasked this can be seen right away in the front cover; the traditionally-pictured founders are grayed out with the people they enslaved brought into full color next to them.
Rather than a straightforward narrative of history, centering familiar events and people like the Boston Tea Party, George Washington, Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson, or focusing on a limited and specific group of people and events like Martin Luther King Jr. and one or two marches, these titles are discussion guides that lead readers into thoughtful reflection on people and events they may have previously accepted without criticism. Jennifer Sabin, the creator of the series, writes a foreword to both books explaining the purpose of the series, that it "sets out not to rewrite history but to collect some of the existing facts and growing body of evidence that paint a more honest picture...the purpose...[is] to give you information and tools to ask tough questions and come to your own conclusions."
The Founders Unmasked explores the legacies of founders as disparate as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton; focuses on the life of Sally Hemings, and jumps forward to Frederick Douglass to tie together events 100 years apart. Throughout the book, readers are constantly asked to reconsider, think critically, and draw parallels to their own lives and things they see in current-day America. In The Legacy of Jim Crow author Clarence Haynes goes beyond the brief overview of Martin Luther King that some kids get in school to explore the ideas, struggles, and lives of Black citizens during the era of Jim Crow and forward into current day movements like Black Lives Matter. He shows how pernicious the strands of racism and prejudice are throughout our society. However, Haynes also lifts up forgotten names and overlooked people, celebrating Black accomplishments in science, media, and more. As media became entwined in daily life during this era, additional inserts include looking at how Black people are portrayed in media and a "closer look" at contemporary artists and activitists.
Who are these books designed for? They are not, in my opinion graphic in the sense that they describe in gruesome detail things like murder, rape, lynching, and slavery, but they are truthful in acknowledging that these things are part of our history. The authors both introduce what they call "Hard History" that involves looking back honestly at history and acknowledging that our nation and the people who founded it were flawed while looking forward and trying to do better as we move forward. These books explain difficult concepts very clearly, showing readers how to reason from one event to another. However, I am doubtful about expecting this kind of serious discussion and critical thinking from grade school kids and if your community is heavily invested into the philosophy of American exceptionalism, there will be a lot of outraged parents, so have your sources and admin support ready.
When I consider my community, I think these books will be of most use to teachers, who can select passages and discussion topics appropriate to their particular class, and for browsing in the public library I would suggest them for middle school and up, so I'll be putting these into our young adult area and sending them to teachers to preview. Wherever you decide they best fit, I do think these should be part of most public library history collections, in whatever area makes the most sense for your audience, and also a great classroom title for social science teachers. Additional volumes on Indigenous peoples and immigration are coming out in the next few months as well.
Verdict: An essential purchase for most libraries.
Founders Unmasked; ISBN: 9780593386101
Legacy of Jim Crow; ISBN: 9780593385999
Published February 2022 by Penguin Workshop; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library