Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July everyone! It's early here still, and our plans for the day aren't really firmed up (much depends on the temperament of the little guy who woke up at 5 a.m.). But the sun is out, the birds are chirping and it's a lovely day for family and fun.

And books, of course - what's a holiday without books? Although we spend a lot of time celebrating Sprout's Ethiopian heritage through literature, it's also important for us that we teach him about his new homeland and its history. We want him to understand that our country was made great by hundreds of Americans who came here as immigrants, just as he did when we adopted him. This is truly a land of possibility!

This year I made it a point to seek out some titles with multicultural emphasis for Sprout. In Jan Spivey Gilchrist's My America, poetic verses laud not only the natural beauty of our country, but also the diversity found in our population. Each pages contains only a few words or phrases, made more impactful by the colorful, emotive illustrations done by Gilchrist and Coretta Scott King Honor winner Ashley Bryan. The pictures range from triumphant -- a bevy of multicolored birds soaring in the sky -- to contemplative -- a young girl in profile, braids fluttering in the breeze. On the last spread, Americans from a variety of ethnic backgrounds display their cultural heritage but are united by their entertwined hands, emphasizing that our greatest strength is in our diversity. A beautiful, simple book perfect for even the youngest children.

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Walter Dean Myers offers "a tribute from the heart" in his book We Are America, illustrated by his son Christopher Myers. In his author's note, Myers explained how he was moved to write the book in the wake of September 11, when he felt he needed to make a deeper connection with the history of his country. "No words here have been penned lightly, no flag waved mindlessly." Myers writes. "This is simply my truest feelings for my country, my tribute to America." And it is a gorgeous tribute, comprised of Myers' free verse poems and Christopher Myers' stunning paintings. The entire range of the American experience is spoken to here, from that of immigrants coming to our shores to wars fought and freedoms gained. Though he doesn't gloss over the difficult points in our history, Myers finds much to celebrate in the hope, the possibility, that is America.

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. Perhaps the most striking and emotional book I've read in years is Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Nelson's goal in writing this book was to tie the history of African Americans -- a history of injustice, suffering and division -- to the history of our nation, to explain how the experience of African Americans is truly the "heart and soul" of our country. This is an unflinching examination of our history, the struggle for equality and acceptance for all Americans. Nelson's was no easy task: finding a way to condense hundreds of years of experience into a cohesive and relatable narrative. But he accomplishes it amazingly well, presenting a book that does not shy from the difficult points yet also stresses the hope that imbued so many to fight for themselves and their children. You will be moved to tears at many points, whether from the poignancy of Nelson's first-person narrative or from his deeply beautiful portraits. This is a book that belongs on the shelf of every American, regardless of your culture or ethnicity.

As you celebrate our nation today, remember that it is a country made up of immigrants from all corners of the globe. Our diversity makes us not a melting pot but a patchwork, more beautiful for the unique contributions of each person who calls this land home. Happy Independence Day!

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