What is America?
It is fifty states from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific Ocean and beyond. It is a flag of stars and stripes. It is farmers, miners, factory workers, bakers, and bankers. It is Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, swamps and desert.
It is the stories of all of us, told together.
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Louise Borden graduated from Denison University with a degree in history. She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she also speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. Her books include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Medal, and The A+ Custodian. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you can visit her at LouiseBorden.com.
Stacey Schuett has illustrated numerous books for children, including America Is...by Louise Borden, Night Lights by Steven Schnur, and Purple Mountain Majesties by Barbara Younger. She lives in Sebastopol, California.
Kindergarten-Grade 3-"America is our country. It is the place we call home. We are the nation whose name means freedom to people all over the world." So begins this extended attempt to define a country in a picture-book poem. Beginning with the basics of 50 states, moving through traditional symbols, and on to varieties of occupations, transportation, communication, and geography, the recurring emphasis is on " a nation where fifty states meet, where we are all one." Diversity of place-farms to skyscrapers, rodeos to Niagara Falls-and people are presented as creating one "family, and one team." The full-color acrylic, gouache, and ink illustrations are attractive and expansive, but also reinforce the cliched nature of the text. The title page's eagle perched against a star-spangled sky, the Statue of Liberty silhouetted against the flaming sunrise on the next page-it's a bit of overkill, but right in keeping with the romanticized, idealized, traditional images that the author presents. The cast of children and parents is nicely individualized in terms of ethnic features, but there is a sameness to their postures and expressions that saps the vibrancy from the diversity. The treacly acknowledgment of Native Americans-"the proud tribes who live in peace with the earth and the sky "-is no less a stereotype for being positively inclusive. America is many of the things mentioned here, and the poet is entitled to her vision, but relentless wishful thinking denies the complexity of a nation that also includes homeless children, hungry families, and people of color whose experiences belie the "we are all one" refrain. For all its good intentions, this selective series of platitudes isn't going to enrich children's knowledge or experience in any significant way.
Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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