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As the Fourth of July approaches, check out these picture books that honor the ongoing efforts of individuals to make the American dream a reality for everyone. All of these titles remind us that no single group owns the flag or the amazing country it represents.
"What's the Big Deal About First Ladies" by Ruby Shamir, illustrations by Matt Faulkner
Did you know that Frances Cleveland hosted special receptions every Saturday so that working women could visit the White House? Or that Nellie Taft was responsible for the planting of the District of Columbia's famous ornamental cherry trees? Or that Edith Wilson kept a flock of sheep on the South Lawn so she could donate their wool to the Red Cross? This lively picture book is full of information about America's first ladies, including the fact that Dolley Madison loved oyster ice cream. Shamir, who worked in the White House under first lady Hillary Clinton, gives an entertaining overview of what a first lady does.
"What's the Big Deal About Freedom" by Ruby Shamir, illustrations by Matt Faulkner
The author of "What's the Big Deal About First Ladies" also celebrates the Fourth of July and the freedoms we enjoy because of that historic day in this inspiring picture book. Along the way, she discusses the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our country's epic struggle to ensure that all Americans enjoy the same privileges.
"Ben's Revolution" by Nathaniel Philbrick
No. It's not that Ben. But yes. It is that revolution. The full title of this book is "Ben's Revolution: Benjamin Russell and the Battle of Bunker Hill." Philbrick, honored for his award-winning nonfiction, has taken a chapter from his book "Bunker Hill: City, a Siege, a Revolution" and adapted it so that a young reader can experience firsthand a crucial moment in our country's history. Young Benjamin Russell, through whose eyes we see the action, helps the patriots in their war against the British as they lay siege to Boston. (Although illustrated, "Ben's Revolution" is actually more of a chapter book than a picture book.)
"Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass" by Dean Robbins
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." More inspiring words have rarely been written. And yet these basic freedoms were not immediately granted to all Americans, including slaves and women. As this picture book illustrates, Douglass and Anthony recognized the similarities of their situations and worked together to champion one another's causes. A nice take on an important friendship between two iconic Americans.
"Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women's Right to Vote" by Dean Robbins
Alice Paul grew up on a farm, where she did what the boys did, which included making mischief. This skill later served her well as a dedicated member of the National Women's Party. She organized parades, spearheaded letter-writing events and created events designed to keep a reluctant Woodrow Wilson's attention on the issue of women's suffrage. Much to Paul's satisfaction, her activism was rewarded when Wilson (strongly encouraged by his daughter Margaret) issued a statement supporting women's suffrage in 1918.
"Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Woman's Land Army of America" by Erin Hagar
When American men sailed off to fight in World War I, farmers were left without the manpower they desperately needed to plant and harvest crops. The government appealed to the patriotism of American women by urging them to sign up for the Woman's Land Army an organization that taught urban women to farm. These "farmerettes," who were paid wages equal to their male counterparts, were precursors to the better-known "Rosie the Riveter" workers of World War II.
"The Navajo Code Talkers" by J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley
It wasn't until 1968 that the military revealed one of the great secrets of World War II Allied forces had used bilingual Navajos to transmit information in their native language. Up until then, the Japanese had been successful in breaking Allied codes. But the Navajo language confounded them. This special picture book tells the Code Talkers' story how the government that tried to break the Navajo people 100 years earlier turned to them to quite literally save the Western world. Maj. Howard Cooper, a Marine signal officer, said, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima."
"The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore" by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
When Lewis Micheaux applied for a loan to open a bookstore in Harlem, he was denied. The bank explained it would happily loan him money to open a fried chicken or fish-and-chip stand, but a bookstore? No. Everybody knows that black people don't read, the bank said. But Micheaux persisted. He worked hard, saved money and opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in the early 1930s. Although he had little formal education, he believed in the power of the written (and spoken) word to inspire, to elevate and to liberate the human soul. This memorable picture book was written by Micheaux's great niece.
"Somos como las nubes/ We Are Like the Clouds" by Jorge Argueta
"The desert sand is very soft./ It reminds me of the beaches of El Salvador./ The coyote tells/ us we are almost there./ I feel like going home/ to see my dad./ He stayed behind, crying." This collection of poetry is a sober reminder that we live in a world where personal freedom doesn't exist for millions of people many of them children. Argueta himself fled the violence of El Salvador in the 1980s, so he has firsthand knowledge of the reasons young people head north, even if they have to make the dangerous journey alone.