Monday, July 28, 2014
Book Review: My Country 'Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, by Claire Rudolf Murphy (Henry Holt, 2014)
NOTE: A guest post from author Claire Rudolf Murphy will appear in this blog on Wednesday!
Most of us don't really think much about the "patriotic" songs we are taught back in elementary school. Before reading this fascinating account, all I knew about the song "America," more commonly known by its first line "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," was that it was sung to the same tune as "God Save the Queen."
In a stunning new picture book by Claire Rudolf Murphy, we are able to follow the history of this iconic American song, which has morphed over the years with new lyrics and versions sung in different times, as our country struggled with different issues of freedom and civil rights.
The book traces the song from its earliest version in 1740's England, when it was sung by supporters of the British monarch George II, to the inauguration of President Obama. Murphy paints the history of the United States in broad strokes; in an interesting layout choice, the information about the song is in a smaller font, while the outlines of the historical context, written in a terse one sentence format, are in a much larger, old-fashioned font that recalls the look of early printed books and newspapers. From a special version of the song for Washington's inauguration, to versions that call for liberty for women, slaves, and Native Americans, the song evolved to address the continual quest for freedom and justice in America.
The book is greatly enhanced by striking two-page illustrations from award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier, featuring his signature style, a mix of vibrant watercolor and collage.
Extensive back matter includes the music and lyrics for the song America, source notes, a bibliography, and further resources, including musical links.
Inspired by the book, Murphy has created the My Country Tis of Thee Music Project, which offers a play list with all the different versions of the song mentioned in the book. In addition, choirs "of all ages and abilities" are invited to upload their own versions of the song, including new lyrics.
With the advent of Common Core around the country, teachers, parents and librarians will be looking for more outstanding nonfiction books to integrate into the curriculum. My Country 'Tis of Thee is an outstanding book to recommend to teachers and families, particularly of children in elementary school.