Skilled watercolor and gouache artist Wendell Minor sets the lyrics to one of America's favorite songs to pictures in this lovingly patriotic tribute.
It's hard to imagine a better primer on the history or meaning behind "America the Beautiful" than this--Minor's elegant, evocative illustrations back up each line of Katharine Lee Bates' breathless prose, and an informative introduction by Minor and bios on both Bates and composer Samuel Augustus Ward provide ample background on the song's journey to cultural cult status. Surely, this is a "heartland"-centric homage, but that's no doubt the nature of the song. The images display an older, idealized America, one of absent teepees and endangered buffalos ("For purple mountain majesties/Above the fruited plain!") and white girls in covered wagons ("A thoroughfare for freedom beat/Across the wilderness"). But Minor also alludes to future hope, with a climbing space shuttle ("O beautiful for patriot dream") and the fallen WTC commemorated in lights ("Thine alabaster cities gleam/Undimmed by human tears!").
Minor proved his artistic chops in the likes of Shane and a John James Audubon biography, and those skills get put to doting use here, in a primer appropriate for young patriots everywhere. (Ages 4 to 8) --Paul Hughes
K-Gr. 3. Using the four verses of "America the Beautiful" as a text, this picture book celebrates the beauty and variety of the American landscape in a series of majestic scenes. Each borderless, double-page spread illustrates a phrase or stanza from the song with a watercolor-and-gouache painting. Just as they represent different places in the country, the paintings also portray different moments in time. Buffaloes graze as smoke rises from a nearby teepee; the Wright brothers' flyer skims above the sand; and two towers bathed in bluish-white light rise above the New York skyline. Minor's richly colored, well-composed paintings reflect the song's grace, dignity, and idealism, but just as impressive is his care in selecting locales that fit the song's phrases. The closing pages offer short biographies of lyricist Bates and composer Samuel Ward, the song's words and music, and an illustrated guide to each spread. A series of landscape paintings (sometimes with figures, but no real characters) may not sound like an inviting approach to a children's picture book, but these paintings are varied and accessible enough to hold a primary-grade audience, especially when the text is sung. Carolyn Phelan
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