Monday, April 13, 2009

Naming Liberty Ages 7-12

Naming Liberty

by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Jim Burke Gr. 2 -5 Ages 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 30 pages Philomel, 2008

In facing single pages, award-winning author Jane Yolen tells two parallel stories: one portrays a Jewish family in the Ukraine in the 1800s and the other pictures a young French sculptor named Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The converging tales add up to an excellent portrait of both the American immigrant experience and the American dream.

Bartholdi's dream was to produce a gigantic statue in the mouth of New York harbor that would welcome the dreamers arriving from other countries and beginning anew in a land called America. Those dreamers are personified in the book by the author's ancestral family (the Yolens) whose hopes and fears are presented in the first person by Gitl, the young girl relating the trials and insecurities of transplanting a family from one side of the world to the other.

Just as insecure was the sculptor's dream as he lobbied American an French politicians and businesses to secure permission to erect the statue and raise the funds for it. Along the way, the name of the statue -- Liberty Enlightening the World -- was shortened to simply the Statue of Liberty. The young Gitl, in turn, would wrestle with a similar name challenge: should she keep her Ukrainian name or adopt an American one like "Libby" -- short for Liberty.

Along with being a portrait of the immigrant family (yesterday and today), the book is brimming with fascinating historical tidbits: the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower also designed the interior staircase of Liberty; the model for Liberty's face was the sculptor's mother and took one year to construct; after being constructed in France, it was carefully deconstructed and packed into 214 crates and loaded aboard 70 train cars for the trip to the harbor; the only "local" part of the Liberty package was the pedestal, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, an American.

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