Monday, May 30, 2011

We are America

Myers. Walter Dean. 2011. We are America: A tribute from the heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: Collins.

Due to the long holiday weekend and my scurrying back and forth between two library branches, on Friday afternoon at 4:55pm, I found myself scrambling to find an appropriate nonfiction book to bring home and share for nonfiction Monday.  I had missed this one when it first arrived, and thankfully found it on a cart full of returns.

In We are America, Walter Dean Myers traces the history of the nation.  With elegant poems, he begins the history with the Lakota in
"Before there was America."
Before the ships came
Their white sails ablaze
     against the clear blue sky
My Lakota heart pounded the rhythms
Of this sacred land ...
He continues, recounting in poetry the birth of the nation, the slave economy, the Civil War, the building of America,
"We were machines belching smoke"
Pushing carts, baking bricks, cleaning sewers
Inventing, daring, lifting our hopes to skies
     that suddenly seemed
Within reach
We were Irish muscle and Polish pride
Germans and Italians
Africans and Chinese
Mexican and English
We spoke a hundred languages
We were laborers building the hugeness
     of the fantasy that was
The Unites States of America ...
and America's future possibilities. His poems are accompanied by quotes that reflect great, decisive, or conflicted moments in American history -quotes from varied people and documents of great meaning to our country.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" Patrick Henry
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Emma Lazarus
"We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of American can one day be finally closed."  Barbara Jordan
Each poem on a stark white page is accompanied by an oil painting representing the people and times that are or have been "America" - from John Smith to Jimi Hendrix, Amelia Earhart, textile workers, a Japanese internment camp, soldiers in Europe, Vietnam, and Iraq, Chinese railroad workers, Mark Twain, Gloria Steinem, and everything in between.

What better book to share for this solemn and reflective national holiday? Enjoy your Memorial Day and remember those who made it possible.

As I waited in line to meet Llama Llama Misses Mama author, Anna Dewdney, on Wednesday, I was less than 2 feet from Walter Dean Meyers as he was signing books in the next row. Unfortunately, after meeting the talented and friendly Ms. Dewdney, the line to meet Mr. Myers was too long for me to get through before he finished greeting librarians and other fans. He sure did look like a nice guy, though. It's comforting to find that famous authors and illustrators are such "regular" people.

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