American History Picks
By Holly Newton

Independence Day brings both celebration and reflection. And both books that I’m reviewing for this July 4th holiday provide much to ponder and appreciate because they bring to light what our great country is all about.

Scholastic Book of Outstanding Americans, by Shelia Keenan, has profiles on 450 people throughout America’s history. These short biographical paragraphs summarize who these people were and what made them stand out in our history. Some are current citizens and many are outstanding and helped our country in one way or another. But there are also profiles on those who hindered or did an injustice to our country. This makes this book especially valuable to all who read it. This is what has made our country what it is today, from not only heroic feats, sacrifices, ingenuity and creativity, but also the problems, mistakes and prejudices. It has been these problems and mistakes from which we have learned, and continue to learn, and what makes our country what it is today! It enables us to practice democracy to its fullest.

As mentioned, the people profiled in this book are both good and bad, but that is what has helped shape our country into what we are now and children of all ages need this type of information to see who we really are and how we became such a mighty nation. I also believe that children are fascinated with extraordinary people and how they overcame obstacles and rose to fame.

Most of the people in this book have done either good for the country or hindered it in some way and there are a few that did both. One was Andrew Jackson, our seventh president. He was the first to be born in poverty and rose above the rest with a platform for the “common man”, not just for the elite east coast American as had been in the past. He served two terms. But he also backed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which displaced thousands of Native Americans from their land in the South!

Here’s one that I’d never heard of but was glad to learn about: Margaret Corbin, American Revolution patriot. She lived the full colonization experience during America’s birth. She lost both of her parents during a Native American raid. She followed her husband, as was custom at the time, while he battled during the Revolutionary War. When he was killed, she kept his cannons firing. She lost an arm during the battle at Fort Washington. She was the first woman to receive a pension and the only veteran to be buried at West Point Military Academy. There are many more profiled, both current and past. Some of the well-known include Walter Payton, Janet Reno, John Steinbeck, Helen Keller, Marilyn Monroe and George S. Patton, Jr.

The script about each notable person is usually a half page long which makes for easier and more interesting reading for kids. There are pictures of each along with a brief caption underneath. I found this book engaging and found myself flipping through the pages to see who was in the book. Many times I stopped when I read about people I’d never heard of before. There is also a glossary as well as web site addresses to gain more information. The entries are in alphabetical order so children can more easily locate facts. This is one of those informational books that should be on every table in a room where families gather. I’d be willing to bet that children and adults alike would pick it up again and again!

I Am American, by Charles R. Smith Jr., is a picture book that’s ablaze with color and children’s faces. It won’t take you long to see what our great country is all about. The diversity of children’s pictures in this book speaks boldly and yet simply. There is a sequence of the same child with three different poses taken during the same moment such as a child sucking a sucker. The next frame has this same child sticking out his tongue showing the dark blue hue left from the sucker. And the final frame has the child sucking the sucker in the side of his mouth so that his cheek protrudes. The pictures are funny and even kind of goofy. But they can’t help but make you smile. The text is simple, yet powerful, in reflecting the nature of America. The three picture frames of a smiling girl, with missing teeth, wearing her cowboy hat at different angles reads: “I am country.” The adjacent page has a smiling boy with Afro hair and has the text: “I am soul.” The book reads with rhythm and each page is backed with a different vibrant color. What better way to celebrate our national heritage than to show off the wonderful diversity of our children – to our children. This book will be great for ages 3 to 8.

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