We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart


New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers, the father-son team who created harlem, celebrate the freedom dream that is America: our struggles, our ideals, and our hope that we can live up to them.

What is it to be an American?

To live in a strange and beautiful land of complexity, with a tumultuous history of epic ...

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New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and Caldecott Honor artist Christopher Myers, the father-son team who created harlem, celebrate the freedom dream that is America: our struggles, our ideals, and our hope that we can live up to them.

What is it to be an American?

To live in a strange and beautiful land of complexity, with a tumultuous history of epic proportions, among the people who were here first, who came after, who will come tomorrow.

We were the youth that could not fail
Planting our high ideals in virgin lands and eager hearts
Making vows forever brighter than the story we would live . . .

The lyrical free verse evocative of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and striking mural-like paintings are a testimonial to the heart and soul of our country: its ordinary and extraordinary people and the monumental events that have shaped our nation. With layered, sweeping panoramic paintings and text rich with historical allusion, this stunning picture book features passionate writings and vivid portraits of political Americans, from Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief, to Abraham Lincoln to Jimi Hendrix.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The father and son team behind Jazz and other award-winning titles pays homage to the entire United States in a soul-searching, free-verse poem examining the people, ideals, and promise of America. The verse journeys along a rough historical chronology. "Before the ships came... My Lakota heart pounded the rhythms/ Of this sacred land." Following are dreams of and fights for freedom, and periods of unrest and abuse (slavery, Japanese internment), when "Like clumsy children we fell/ As we learned to run." Christopher Myers's evocative paintings often juxtapose different eras; a scene in which a firefighter turns his hose on a group of African-Americans melds into the Boston Tea Party. "We were willing to die/ to forge our dream," the accompanying verses begin. Like many passages, it has multiple interpretations. In opening, Walter Dean Myers writes, "No words here have been penned lightly, no flag waved mindlessly," and his introspective reflections offer proof. Closing notes explicate quotations that lace the pages and identify figures shown in the artwork. It's best appreciated by readers with some knowledge of American history, but few will be unmoved by this stirring and provocative collaboration. Ages 7–12. (May)
ALA Booklist
Praise for Ida B. Wells: “Masterful.”
School Library Journal
Gr 5–10—As Whitman turned to free verse to explore the character and complexity of America in the 19th century, so Walter Dean Myers employs it in the 21st. From the Lakota Indian watching his father "in the curl of legend" and the refugee whose freedom dream "lay just beyond the next wave" to the diverse assembly of famous figures depicted in concluding montages, the Myers grapple with the meaning of the country's founding principles. They pair big ideas with specific individuals (real or imagined) culled from a wide swath of peoples. The imagery is beautifully crafted, and the tone allows space for readers to draw conclusions; while acknowledging imperfections, Myers reserves judgment. Relevant quotes are interspersed, adding perspective and sometimes irony. Christopher Myers's paintings cross the gutter in earnest panoramic scenes that vary in effectiveness. There are graphic images (a wounded soldier) and aesthetically pleasing scenes, such as a woman carrying bricks on her head next to Chinese immigrants laying railroad track; the lines offer a pleasing contrast to the opposing curve of the adjacent steel overpass. Several of the compositions, however, try to do too much as they line up literal examples from the text's large time spans. A Guinean iron worker, surrounded by daylight, is next to a man reading and others praying inside a mosque. When Mae Jemison flies in on the opposite page against a starlit sky, it feels disjointed. Notes explain the back story and identify individual portraits. A thought-provoking and largely accomplished work for students of American history.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
The Myers team shares their heartfelt and stirring vision of an America flawed but filled with promises and dreams. Like weavers connecting warp and woof, father threads lofty words and son paints seamless pictures. Each double-page spread contains a brief poem and usually a quote from a relevant document or person. A mural rendered in pastels spans both pages. Homage is paid to young people; Native Americans; immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia; laborers, protesters, soldiers and performers. "We were willing to die to forge our dream" writes Walter Dean Myers while Chris Myers paints snarling dogs attacking civil rights protesters and colonial patriots throwing tea into Boston Harbor. Juxtaposed with this are the opening line to the Constitution and King George's words granting independence. In another tableau, a slave shows his terribly scarred back, Indians lie dead at Wounded Knee and Japanese-American citizens stand behind barbed wire, but Americans learned to "light the darkness with the blazing torch that is the Constitution."Backmatter credits each quotation and identifies the people in each painting. The poetry and the paintings will be an excellent jumping-off point for discussions. Readers will take every opportunity to pause and reflect and trace their fingers along the glorious artwork. Stunning. (Picture book/poetry. 8 & up)
Abby McGanney Nolan
The images and text are vibrant, featuring paintings from Christopher Myers that evoke the sweep of history, provocative poetry from Walter Dean Myers, and pertinent quotes…
—The Washington Post
Pamela Paul
Best for children with a firm grasp of history, We Are America offers an inclusive, unblinkered variation of patriotism.
—The New York Times
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Praise for Ida B. Wells: “Accessible to younger elementary audiences.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Praise for Ida B. Wells: “Accessible to younger elementary audiences.”
ALA Booklist
Praise for Ida B. Wells: “Masterful.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060523084
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 643,739
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.10 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Dean Myers is a New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed author who has garnered much respect and admiration for his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for young people. Winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award, he is considered one of the preeminent writers for children. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his family.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2011

    They've Done It Again!

    This most timely book by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by his son, Christopher, describes the diversity that is America in exquisite poetry and artwork. Not for children only, this book, conceived in the aftermath of 9/11, reminds us of all that is best about America. It is truly "a tribute from the heart."

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