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My Fellow Americans: A Family Album Hardcover – November 15, 1995
All Books, All the Time
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In this illustrated "family album," Caldecott medalist Alice Provensen offers a unique glimpse of the people who shaped America, from Pocahontas to Edgar Allan Poe to Martin Luther King Jr. This 60-page, oversized hardcover is rich with portraits of artists, enduring icons, outlaws, radicals, visionaries, composers, writers, inventors, and reformers. On the "Naturalists and Ecologists" page, Rachel Carson is joined by water analyst Ellen Swallow Richards, painter and ornithologist John James Audubon, and agricultural chemist George Washington Carver. While quotations from famous Americans mark every page, the book's focus is purely pictorial. The visual montages present an interesting jumping-off point for further exploration of some of America's rogues and luminaries.
"Like all families," Provenson writes in her introduction, "my American family has its rich uncles and poor relations, its atheists and believers, its scoundrels and bigots, its gifted and compassionate. Above all, these relatives are individuals, idiosyncratic and exceptional. In general I have been able to group them here by thought, by behavior, by métier.... Pictured on the end sheets, front and back, are individuals who defy classification--Americans who are known for a single or unique act, invention, comment, work of art, tragedy, or who are somehow larger than life and have come to represent our myths and legends, our fantasies and our foibles." (Age 9 and older)
From Publishers Weekly
Provensen (The Buck Stops Here) curates a highly personal gallery of American historical figures in this eclectic, large-format volume. "Not all these Americans are honored in our national imagination, but they live in mine," she explains in an author's note. She groups her subjects by their careers, callings or causes they championed, labeling her assemblages with headings like "American Architects: The Shapes of Democracy" or "The Magnetic West: Pathfinders, Settlers, & Image Makers." Provensen renders their likenesses in India ink and oil in her characteristically candid style, but the words or phrases with which she embellishes these portraits may puzzle young readers (e.g., Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, described as "the proletarian Joan of Arc," says, "We want bread and roses too"; Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman's Party, rides in a vehicle labeled "Prison Special"). Quotations from individuals associated with the various themes run at the bottom of each busy page, but their meaning may also elude the young, as when Susan Sontag comments on the purpose of art. The author concludes this curious book with five pages of "Observations & Reflections" that offer (in a tiny typeface) an informal, subjective commentary on each biographical cluster. All ages.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Kids receive a likewise lopsided view of many Americans included in this book, which includes "expatriates", "scoundrels and theives", as well as mainstream heroes. Parents might also want to watch out for the occassional term that they might not want their kids repeating (example: quote from Al Capone about being "one of those goddamn radicals".)
My recommendation is if you do get this book, go over it with your children, do some research, and show them the whole picture rather than simply accepting these tiny snippets as gospel. Point out to kids that authors bring their own preconcieved notions and personal agendas to their work, and a good reader investigates rather than absorbs such opinions.