Prather’s Pick: A book to celebrate 4th of July
Sally Beauchamp, children’s librarian at the Moffat County Library, brought this week’s book to my attention a while back. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights” is a picture book intended for children, but I learned a lot while reading the book, and I’ll bet other adults will, too.
The book published by Henry Holt and Co. was written by Claire Rudolf Murphy, who, according to the book’s short biography, has written 15 award-winning books for children and young adults. The research done for writing this book is impressive, indeed.
Bryan Collier, illustrator of the book, has an impressive list of awards to his credit. He has received three Caldecott Honors, the Ezra Jack Keats Book award and six Coretta Scott King Awards and Honors for his works. The gorgeous illustrations in this book were done in watercolor and collage.
Most of us have memorized the words to “America” (better known for its first line, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) and have sung the song all of our lives, some of us singing it at school in the mornings. The song has its roots in England, and the book starts during that time.
In the 1740s, the song was known as “God Save the King,” and people sang it to show support for King George II. The verse began, “God save our gracious King …” Then followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie, King George’s rival, sang a new verse to honor him.
When colonists settled in America, they sang “God Save the King,” too. During the French and Indian War, British soldiers changed the song’s words, and later on it became known as “Come, Thou Almighty King.” Although some colonists sang the British verses to the song, residents who were angry with King George III called for a revolution, and a new verse in the song reflected their views. During the Revolutionary War that followed, Revolutionary soldiers came up with their own verses for the song; British soldiers sang “God Save the King.”
When the United States of America was formed, songwriters came up with lots of new verses for the song, and a new version was sung as George Washington was sworn in as president on the first Inauguration Day in 1789.
The book continues in this manner, with information about the song verses written during suffrage and labor movements and the struggles for black and Native American civil rights. It ends with President Barack Obama’s inauguration and Aretha Franklin’s performance of “America.”
Included in the book are two pages of the author’s source notes, arranged according to the events that led to changes in the song’s verses. There is also a bibliography, a list of further sources (for readers who want to learn more) and musical links (with information about where to go to find renditions of the song). The words to “America” (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”), written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831, are printed on the front and back inside pages of the book.
Sharing this book with a child is a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July. The book costs $17.99 in hardcover, or it can be found at the Moffat County Library, in the children’s room.