Independence Day celebrations are about to blast off across the U.S.A. Here’s a star-spangled set of books to celebrate with!
The Fourth of July by Childe Hassam
I’ll begin with a pair of titles on the rich gift of immigrants to our nation as I feel so strongly about maintaining a posture of open arms.
My grandparents immigrated at the outset of the 20th century, seeking refuge from militaristic overlords and a chance at a better life. My dad was a first-generation American who fought in WWII alongside guys hailing from many ethnic backgrounds. That’s America, and that’s the vision presented by beloved Harlem artist Faith Ringgold in her newest book:
We Came To America, written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
The vivid, pulsing beauty of diversity courses through this small catalog of peoples who make up America from “every color, race, and religion, from every country in the world.”
Some were here to begin with. Some came in chains. Some fled here. All have contributed to the glorious medley of ideas and strengths that make us who we are. Ringgold’s vigorous, brilliant color and primitive line rivet us to the array of faces and styles of these lovely humans. A joy to contemplate with ages 2 and up.
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie
published in 2016 by Carolrhoda Books
I’m so pleased to call your attention to this book by two Minnesotans, from a Minnesota publishing house. The Twin Cities are home to an abundance of immigrants and refugees, so this is a most fitting collaboration.
It’s a lovely, thought-provoking photo-essay. Page after page of faces and simple phrases invite us to revel in beauty, appreciate diversity, wonder over a host of life-stories, enter homes, empathize with newness. The arrival stories of John Coy’s European family and Wing Young Huie’s Asian family are, happily, included. It’s a treasure to meander through with ages 2 to 100.
Moving on to a trio of Revolutionary history titles…
The Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’, Gentlemen Who Started America, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Barry Blitt
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Jonah Winter has written eminently-readable introductions to 14 Founding Fathers — “some of the most tremendously smart people who ever lived.” And what a diverse bunch!
Each of these guys gets a hefty paragraph describing their contributions, personalities, and uniquenesses, as well as a fascinating little section of stats and some famous quotes. As you’d expect from Winter, he strikes a great balance between a casual tone and intelligent style.
All of this is illustrated with lighthearted, ink and watercolor portraits and vignettes, with some added hand-lettering touches. Putter your way through this fascinating, slim volume with kids ages 8 and up and learn a LOT effortlessly.
The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence, by Judith St. George, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
published in 2005 by Philomel Books
Follow the ins and outs and ups and downs of one of the most famous documents in human history which “has had more homes than a traveling circus.”
From Jefferson’s quill it began it’s course by horse courier and wagon, by ship and rail. Hidden, harassed, hustled! Signed, singed, shrunk! Read it’s careening life story, masterfully told by Judith St. George. I hope you’ve discovered her other work by now — she’s a national treasure herself! And warmly, humorously, brilliantly illustrated by the talented Will Hillenbrand. It’s lengthier than your average picture book. Enjoy it with ages 6 and up.
Those Rebels, John and Tom, by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
published in 2012 by Scholastic Press
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Utterly unalike. Best of friends. Bitter enemies. Two of the most important men in the history of our country.
Take a look at the overlap of their lives in this most-pleasant account. Kerley writes with elegance and polish and then dapples the whole business with charm. Fotheringham’s fabulous illustrations combine period styling and clever wit. A winning combination that will satisfy ages 6 and up.
And now for the fireworks and picnic!
The Explosive Story of Fireworks, by Kama Einhorn, illustrated by Daniel Guidera
published in 2015 by Simon Spotlight
This is an early reader in a great series called History of Fun Stuff, geared to the upper level of independent readers.
Begin back in 200BC in ancient China and learn how fireworks were invented, how they’ve been used and improved over the centuries, and why they’ve come to be so inextricably associated with the Fourth of July.
Engaging pages with plenty of full-color illustrations make this a good read-aloud for curious folks ages 5 and up; independent readers need to be up for vocabulary such as lithium, strontium, and pyrotechnicians! Extras inform us about bamboo, independence celebrations around the world, and the color wheel.
McDuff Saves the Day, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
published in 2002 by Hyperion Books for Children
There are a number of charming stories about the lovable Westie, McDuff, and his dear family — Lucy and Fred, and The Baby. If you haven’t found your way to them, you ought to.
In this episode the crew is on their way to Lake Ocarina for a Fourth of July picnic. The car ride is a bit of a bother for McDuff, but worse trouble is ahead in the form of Marauding Ants. Enjoy this delightful story and discover how McDuff winds up saving the day. Packed with 1920s-era charm and ready to be loved by ages 2 and up.