Children's books offer stories of history
Sunday, July 3, 2005
To some children, President Clinton was a lifetime ago, so the idea that the United States is celebrating its 224th year might take a little explaining. Some new picture books can help describe the birth and "childhood" of the country:
* "Liberty of Death: The American Revolution 1763-1783" (HarperCollins, ages 7 and up) by Betsy Maestro and Giulio Maestro.
This book is part of The American Story series and it begins with a map of how the English territory looked in 1763. The 13 colonies are there, and so are Florida, Canada and the Mississippi River, but that's it. Then, through words and illustrations, it recounts the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's ride, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, many Revolutionary War battles, the British surrender at Yorktown and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Portraits of important figures such as Revere, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock help put faces to the famous names.
There also are several extra reference sections in the back of the book, including mini-biographies of unsung heroes and blurbs about what contributions demographic groups other than white soldiers -- including women, blacks and American Indians -- made to the independence effort.
* "The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence" (Philomel, ages 5 and up) by Judith St. George and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.
The Declaration of Independence took quite a convoluted route to get to the National Archives building in Washington, and this book follows it from Philadelphia's Pennsylvania State House to Pennsylvania Avenue.
It explains a few oddities -- why all the S's look like F's -- and that copies were made in 1820 by pressing damp paper on the parchment to imprint the words, which were then transferred to a copper plate. That job took three years.
At 165 years, the Declaration got a facelift, and this book describes that process, too, with a humorous illustration of doctors examining the document with familiar medical tools. The final illustration is how the country's founders (and the author and illustrator of this book) want the Declaration to be remembered: bringing together people of all races, ages and backgrounds.
* "Hold the Flag High" (HarperCollins, ages 5 to 7) by Catherine Clinton and illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
The true story of William Carney is an inspiring one. He was born a slave in Virginia but after the Emancipation Proclamation freed him, he joined the Union army.
Carney fought in the battle of Fort Wagner in 1863, one of the first when black troops were involved in combat. Carney was said to have found inspiration and strength in the American flag, called Old Glory. He made a personal promise to the stars and stripes that he'd never let the flag touch the ground.
Eventually he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts -- the first black man to receive it.
* "Little Miss Liberty" (Chronicle, ages 4 and up) by Chris Robinson.
Compared to the Declaration of Independence and the American flag, the Statue of Liberty is the new kid on the block, but, in fact, it has a rich history, too.
This fictional book tells the story of a little, slightly greenish girl born in Paris one July morning. From the start, everyone knew she was special.
She grew like a weed, dressed up in a bedsheet and had an insatiable appetite for both food and knowledge. When she decided that America was the place she wanted to be, she packed her books and her torch.
Waiting for her was the perfect-size pedestal where she could beam with pride.