Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lady Liberty: A Biography

Rappaport, Doreen. 2008. Lady Liberty: A biography. Ill. By Matt Tavares. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Lady Liberty is a biography of a national monument, a history of the myriad of people and events necessary to create one of the modern world’s most recognized symbols of freedom. Each “chapter” of this picture book consists of a short vignette about a person, related in some way to the Statue of Liberty. The vignettes are typeset like poetry, in narrow columns on the edge of the page, the illustrations receiving the majority of attention. Rappaport begins the book with a piece about herself, had her grandfather not told her stories of his flight from Latvia and his admiration for “The Lady,” the book would not have been written. From herself, Rappaport continues on - from Edouard De Laboulaye, who first envisioned the gift to America, to common Americans who donated pennies, nickels, dimes and even roosters (!) to raise money for the statue’s great base. Rappaport profiles poet Emma Lazarus (“bring me your tired, your poor, …”), sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, assistant Marie Simon, engineer Gustave Eiffel, construction supervisor Charles P. Stone, publisher Joseph Pulitzer, and journalist José Martí. Each story is written simply and majestically,

She wears a flowing robe
Like the ancient goddess Libertas.
Her right foot is raised.
Liberty walks.
Freedom never stands still.
A broken shackle and chain lie near her feet.
America broke the links of slavery
To fulfill its promise of equality for all.

The watercolor, ink, and pencil illustrations are all double spreads, with the exception of one lengthwise foldout of the completed statue after its initial unveiling, resplendent in its original copper coloring. Tavares’ illustrations are as varied as the scenes which they depict, a grim immigrant working to dig the massive hole for the statue’s foundation, a serious Joseph Pulitzer in his darkened office writing editorials to embarrass the nation’s elite into giving financial support for the statue’s installation, an enthusiastic New Jersey farm girl racing after the rooster she plans to donate to the cause of Lady Liberty.

Completing the book are remembrances from individual immigrants, dimensions of the statue, important events and dates, author’s and illustrator’s notes, and resources.

A beautiful book.

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