Happy Birthday, America!

Red, white and blue children’s book picks for the Fourth of July.

Happy Fourth of July! Hot dogs grilling, flags waving, kids marching, fireworks sparkling in the night sky have a deeper meaning. Even before America won the Revolutionary War, colonists celebrated the first Independence Day in 1777 to remember the Declaration of Independence signed a year earlier.

Among the signees was Charles Carroll, cousin of the first American bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore, and the only Catholic whose name appeared on the document that forever changed history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The birthright we enjoy comes with responsibility. “In a word, freedom is ever new,” Pope Benedict XVI said, speaking at the White House in 2008. “It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.”

For the young patriots in your family, these books recount the sacrifices made for our freedom and the blessings our Creator has showered on America.

In 1776

written by Jean Marzollo

illustrated by Stephen Björkman

Scholastic, 2009

32 pages, $6.99

This story of our nation’s founding opens with American colonists protesting Britain’s unfair treatment of them (“The colonists were angry / Because they had no say / When the British king gave orders / Three thousand miles away.”). Anger soon gave rise to action. Farmers and tradesmen formed militias. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, and a new nation was created (“On the Fourth of July, in seventy-six / After a long and heated morn, / The Declaration was approved, / And the U.S.A. was born.”). The victory of the American patriots, the election of the country’s first president, and, much later, the renewed friendship between Britain and America followed. The rhyming verse makes this an easy history for children to learn by heart. Ages 6-10.

Yankee Doodle America: The Spirit of 1776 From A to Z

written and illustrated by Wendell Minor

Putnam, 2006

48 pages, $16.99

In Colonial times, people often gathered at inns and taverns — to find lodging, eat a meal, and share the news of the day. In this clever alphabet book, news from Colonial days is shared from A to Z, with accompanying illustrations presented in the form of antique tavern signs. Each entry (for example, “A” is for Acts, “B” is for Boston Massacre, and “C” is for Common Sense) unveils a snapshot of early American life and includes helpful information for budding historians. Ages 8-12.

O, Say Can You See? America’s Symbols, Landmarks, and Inspiring Words

written by Sheila Keenan
illustrated by Ann Boyajian

Scholastic, 2004

64 pages, $16.95

After British warships fired more than 1,500 bombshells at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key grabbed his telescope to see whose flag flew at dawn’s light. As the smoke cleared, the young lawyer spied the “broad stripes and bright stars.” He quickly scribbled a heartfelt poem on an envelope celebrating “that our flag was still there.” In 1931, Congress made “The Star-Spangled Banner” our national anthem. This is just one of more than two dozen stories about what makes us proud to be Americans. Ages 6-12.

Everybody’s Revolution

written by Thomas Fleming

Scholastic, 2006

96 pages, $19.99

Think about the American Revolution, and you might well imagine the fighting between two groups of Englishmen who lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This is only part of the story, according to the author, who reports that nearly 40% of the colonists were Irish, Scottish, German, Jewish, Dutch, Polish, French, Swiss or African. Their contributions and those of unlikely fighters in the war for independence — young teens and women — are chronicled in this story of courage and hope. Ages 9-12.

George Did It

written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain

illustrated by Larry Day

Puffin, 2007

40 pages, $6.99

This is the story of George Washington and how he took on a job he never intended: the presidency. This engaging book shows our nation’s first president as a reluctant candidate who was called on to put his talents in service to the country. Young readers will learn a host of interesting facts about Washington (for example, that he had large feet, that his wife called him her “old man,” and that Congress forgot to bring a Bible for his inauguration). Best of all, they might be inspired to look at challenges in a new way. If “George did it,” they can too. Ages 7-12.

America the Beautiful

written by Katherine Lee Bates

illustrated by Wendell Minor

Puffin, 2005

48 pages, $5.99

For more than a century, Americans have sung this familiar and beloved patriotic song. An introductory note tells how the lyrics were originally inspired by Katherine Lee Bates’ 1893 cross-country train ride. The book pairs stunning watercolor images with each line of the song to take today’s readers on a visual tour that literally extends from “sea to shining sea.” A musical score, historical notes and a corresponding map all add to the book’s impact. It’s hard to imagine that readers will not want to join in and sing along. Ages 6-10.

Lady Liberty: A Biography

written by Doreen Rappaport

illustrated by Matt Tavares

Candlewick, 2008

40 pages, $17.99

She holds in one hand a tablet engraved with July 4, 1776; in her other hand is a torch. From her heels to the top of her head, she stands 111 feet and looms three times that when her foundation and torch-bearing arm are taken into account. These dimensions pale, however, when one considers her true measure. Lady Liberty, a gift from the French, embodies the friendship between the two then young republics. She welcomes the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. This biography tells the stories of the French men who envisioned her, the sculptor, the fundraisers, the poet and others who championed the Statue of Liberty. Ages 8-12.

The Crawford sisters write from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.