Friday, July 2, 2004

Picture books offer
snapshots of U.S. history

By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press

It might come as a surprise to some children, but the Fourth of July doesn't celebrate fireworks and hot dogs.

Maybe this is the year to remind children - and give parents a refresher course - about America's birth and its continuing evolution. The lesson doesn't have to be dry and boring, since several new picture books incorporate colorful art with informative text.

American Moments: Scenes From American History (Henry Holt Books; $18.95, ages 6-10) by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Bruce Strachan.

Each of the historic events featured in this book, which goes from the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 to Sept. 11, 2001, is captured in just a few paragraphs. The illustrations in the book are oil paintings of clay statues.

Meet Our Flag, Old Glory (Little, Brown; $15.95, ages 3-6) by April Jones Prince and illustrated by Joan Paley.

The nation's flag is featured in a series of drawings, each showing a slice of American life: in a classroom, at a baseball stadium and at a cemetery. Surrounding the flag in most of the pictures are faces of different races.

While You Are Away (Hyperion; $15.99, ages 3-7) by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Renee Graef.

This book isn't about history; it's about current events that are making history. Spinelli wrote While You Are Away for the children of the 3.3 million men in women in the U.S. armed forces.

When Mr. Jefferson Came to Philadelphia: What I Learned of Freedom, 1776 (HarperCollins; $15.99, ages 6-9) by Ann Turner and illustrated by Mark Hess.

A young boy learns to embrace the idea that all men are created equal as he watches Thomas Jefferson at work in this book written in first-person style.

America the Beautiful (Little, Brown; $16.95, all ages) by Katherine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chris Gall.

The famous poem-turned-song goes back to its written roots, and is accompanied by freeze-frame cartoon-style illustrations.

Yankee Doodle (Little, Brown; $15.95, ages 3-6) adapted by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott.

Yankee Doodle encounters an interesting and amusing cast of characters, such as a fine old rooster singing "cock-a-doodle" and a prancing poodle, as he makes his ride into town.

The Flag Maker (Houghton Mifflin; $16, ages 6-10) written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola.

Back in 1812, Caroline Pickersgill and her mother Mary made flags for militia and cavalry officers in Baltimore. It's through Caroline's eyes that this story is told.

My Country, 'Tis of Thee (Scholastic; $5.99, ages 3-5).

Photographs of the country's mountainsides, rocks and rills, woods and templed hills help transform the words of the Rev. Samuel Francis Smith's 19th-century song into modern-day life.

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