a list of…five books celebrating America’s Birthday!

I’m posting this razzle-dazzle collection of books celebrating America’s Birthday, and will sign off for the rest of this Glorious Fourth of July holiday week-end!  See you on Tuesday!


America the Beautiful, text by Katharine Lee Bates, illustrated by Chris Gall 

In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates sat on top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado and wrote a poem called “America the Beautiful.”  It was eventually set to music composed by Samuel Ward, and has been sung countless times since.  Illustrator Chris Gall is Katharine’s great-great-grandnephew.  With love for the hymn and his aunt and his country, he has produced some fabulous, striking artwork to complement these lyrics. 

Gall’s work is reminiscent of 1930’s, highly-stylized travel posters.  Colorful, larger-than-life, bold, sharp designs.  According to the frontpages, they are engravings, with some digitized adjustments.  At any rate, they are fantastic, and nicely run the gamut from mammoth red tractors in fields of amber grain, to New York City firefighters raising the flag at the World Trade Center, to Sacagawea navigating the Missouri with Lewis and Clark, to picturesque scenes of New England.  The pictures are all one full page with a couplet of lyrics on the opposing page.  At the end of the book, there is a thumbnail size print of each picture with an explanation of where/what it is and its relevance to the book.  And one final page gives us the music to the hymn. 

Beautiful.  Look for more of Chris Gall’s stunning artwork on his website http://www.chrisgall.com/

John, Paul, George and Ben, written and illustrated by Lane Smith 

“Once there were four lads:  John, Paul, George and Ben.*
*Make that five lads.  There was also Independent Tom (always off doing his OWN thing).”

So begins this light-hearted historical account of five beloved founding fathers.  I first saw this book in a museum gift shop in Lexington, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw from the Lexington Green where the Minutemen gathered in April, 1775; and I loved it at first sight!  It is a hilarious spoof, in which Smith takes a trait for each of these major players in the Revolution, and writes a supposed account of how it emerged in his boyhood.  The accounts are pure ridiculousness.  The illustrations are exceptionally engaging, combining  a Colonial style in the architecture, scenes, costumes and even typefaces and crackled textures, with very current- style comical faces and figures,  and wild-rumpus action.

This is a perfect book for young kids who have already learned about these heroes and can thus catch the humor.  Perhaps  second-grade and up would be best.  Guaranteed they will laugh, and feel smugly smart at the same time.  Adults will love it just as much, however, and won’t have to be begged to read it again!  Part of the spoof which probably only grown-ups will catch are Smith’s allusions to the Beatles, including John, Paul, George and… okay… Ben, shown in a mock Abbey-Road line-up.   A true-and-false quiz at the back unravels some of the nonsense in the book without getting too serious about it.  Fun read!

America:  A Patriotic Primer, written by Lynne Cheney, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser 

An explosion of brilliant illustrations decorates every page of this alphabetically-organized American history book.  There is enough color and hoopla here to captivate a very young child, and enough information about everything from flag etiquette to women’s suffrage to engage an adult.  Some letters are fairly obvious, such as L for Lincoln.  Here, Glasser has chosen various cameos to illustrate Lincoln’s life, from his log cabin to his funeral train, twined words from the Gettysburg address around the edges of the page, included another quote…and laid it all out very pleasingly.  Other letters offer more room for creativity, such as Q for Quest, a page filled with Americans in many different spheres who have accomplished lofty goals, from Babe Ruth to Emily Dickinson. 

This is a book which you’d have to look at numerous times to fully absorb as there is really so much packed onto each page.  In addition, “Notes on the Text” at the end of the book fill in many details for those wanting more information about each letter’s subjects.  There you can learn more about the many people whose names or portraits fill these pages, from Roberto Clemente to Sitting Bull. 

Emma’s Poem:  The Voice of the Statue of Liberty, by Linda Glaser, with paintings by Claire A. Nivola 

I’m so glad to include this book, perhaps my favorite of today’s listing.  This is the story of Emma Lazarus, a young Jewish woman from New York City, who penned the words we all associate with the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  In 1883, Emma wrote those words as part of a poem called “The New Colossus”, having been asked to join other well-established American writers in creating new works to help raise money for the pedestal of the statue. 

This book tells us of her life, beginning with a wealthy, privileged childhood, but growing to embrace the cause of impoverished immigrants.  It was Emma’s heart for these weary newcomers which led her to put these words in the mouth of Lady Liberty, so to speak, and which eventually brought this new meaning to the iconic statue in New York Harbor.  A very interesting, moving story, with brilliant, eye-catching, Early Americana style illustrations, and a reproduction of Emma’s handwritten copy of the entire poem.  Highly recommended. 

McDuff Saves the Day, story by Rosemary Wells, pictures by Susan Jeffers

I’ll cap things off with a happy-as-an-apple-pie Fourth of July tale for the youngest ones!

Have you already met McDuff?  He has quite a number of books about his adorable self!  McDuff is a West Highland Terrier who is irresistibly cute and who gets into all sorts of doggy adventures.  In this story, he heads off with Lucy and Fred and the baby for a delightful Fourth of July picnic at the lake.  From the get-go, the negotiations over who gets the front seat (McDuff wins) bring knowing smiles to fellow dog-lovers.  After their picnic basket is raided by rogue ants, McDuff saves the day by using his excellent sniffer to locate another delicious picnic.  Okay.  He helps himself without asking at first…But, all ends well when Lucy, Fred, baby, and McDuff provide needed companionship for a lonely old man in exchange for a delicious spread of fried chicken and devil’s food cake.  

Rosemary Wells has written umpteen winning children’s books and Susan Jeffers is an award-winning illustrator who has painted her magic onto so many, many pages.  The McDuff stories are wonderful collaborations between these two women.