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Celebrate America!

Fall books take young readers on a cultural, historical, and geographical tour of the US

THREE-QUARTERS of a century ago, the Newbery and Caldecott medals for children's literature were years away from being awarded, contemporary classics like ``Charlotte's Web,'' by E.B. White, had not yet been published, and kids-only bookstores were nonexistent. But these have now become familiar as National Children's Book Week - this year from Nov. 14 to Nov. 20 - marks its 75th anniversary. The anniversary celebration's theme, ``Read Across America,'' inspires this selection of fall books that honor the art, history, and geography of the United States.

Art and poetry books

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In the late 1800s, Katharine Lee Bates wrote ``America the Beautiful,'' the poem that is almost a national anthem. Her timeless words jump to life in this dramatic pairing with bold, colorful works by contemporary artist Wayne Thiebaud. The juxtaposition of these two artists' mediums in O Beautiful for Spacious Skies creates powerful, thought-provoking images.

To illustrate Celebrate America in Poetry and Art, editor Nora Panzer has selected some 60 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs from the vast resources of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art. Works from such artists as George Catlin, Winslow Homer, and Red Grooms are evocatively paired with poems by Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Maya Angelou, and others. Divided into topic-based chapters, this anthology explores the texture and tempo of America life.

Picture books

Karla Kuskin has written a boisterous read-aloud with City Noise. A city-dwelling girl picks up a tin can and, holding it to her ear like a seashell, hears jazzy urban rhymes and rhythms: ``Buying Selling/Laughing Yelling/Running Wheeling/Roaring Squealing.'' Renee Flower's colorful and chaotic art is as appealing as the text.

Belinda Rochelle's When Jo Louis Won the Title is the perfect book for any child who's ever been embarrassed about his or her name. Jo Louis doesn't want to start school because she'll have to answer the question, ``What's your name?'' Her grandfather lovingly tells her about his trip to Harlem on the night her name- sake - the great boxer Joe Louis - won the title. As it turns out, that was a special night in the history of Jo's family because her grandparents met during the celebration of the Louis championship. Expressive paintings by Larry Johnson illustrate this warm, affirming story.

New England writer Mary Lyn Ray has added another charmer to her body of works with Alvah and Arvilla. This farming couple from Maine has been farm-bound for 31 years because they have so many animals to tend. Now, Arvilla has the idea to travel cross-country to see the Pacific Ocean. How do they do it? By taking all the animals - and there are quite a few - with them. Barry Root's delightful paintings are a perfect match for Ray's dry humor.

George Washington's Cows, written and illustrated by David Small, features cows, pigs, and sheep. With droll rhymes and clever illustrations, the reader is treated to some fanciful shenanigans of animals Washington might have owned at Mount Vernon. His cows dress in gowns, his pigs cheerfully take over for absent servants, and his sheep count stars and give lectures. All this causes consternation for Washington, who decides that he might just have to quit farming and find another calling.

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Books for older readers

In The Glory Field, Walter Dean Myers creates a fictional epic about the Lewis family that spans 250 years. The ``glory field'' is eight acres of South Carolina farmland named for Moses Lewis's joyful cry after his release from slavery. Five generations of children connected to this ancestral plot are featured, from 11-year-old Muhammad, who arrives as a slave in the 1700s, to 15-year-old Malcolm, an aspiring Harlem musician of the 1990s. This riveting work brings alive the times each character represents. Although Myers depicts many triumphs of this African-American family, he also vividly shows the high cost of every victory.

After a 20-year delay, Jean Craighorn George's Newbery- Award-winning ``Julie of the Wolves'' has a satisfying sequel in Julie. Leaving the beloved wolf pack that rescued her on the Arctic tundra, 14-year-old Julie returns to her Inuit village. She finds many traditions have changed. Her father, Kapugen, now flies an airplane, has married a gussak (white) woman, and is head of the village corporation trying to compete in a modern economy. Even more disturbing is her father's willingness to kill Julie's wolves if they threaten the village musk oxen.

As Julie struggles to save the wolves, she experiences her first love. This tender romance provides counterpoint for action-packed dog-sled runs, wolf-pack hunts, and grizzly-bear attacks. Wendell Minor's black and white drawings of the frozen north lend quiet dignity to this powerful tale.

Informational books

Award-winning author Gary Paulsen draws on his boyhood experiences in Minnesota to write the fishing and hunting essays that fill Father Water, Mother Woods: Essays on Fishing and Hunting in the North Woods. Fans of Paulsen's numerous books, especially ``Hatchet'' and ``The River,'' will appreciate his childhood view of the northern woods he so often celebrates. Among other seasonal events, Paulsen records the winter-ending breakup of river ice and spring-ending days of ditch fishing. This moving, poignant, and sometimes humorous book is a real keeper. Pen-and-ink wildlife illustrations are by the author's wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen.

In Crazy Horse, noted nonfiction author Judith St. George provides a compelling biography of this famous Sioux warrior and leader. Perhaps best known for his Little Big Horn defeat of Colonel Custer, Crazy Horse is portrayed as a quiet, modest man who had great love for his family and people. Thorough research - buttressed by a four-page bibliography - places Crazy Horse in the context of the Civil War, gold mining, and the expansion of the US in the 1800s.

Floyd Cooper's Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes is a compassionate telling of the people, events, and forces that shaped the life of this remarkable poet. By age 13, Hughes is writing verses and distinguishing himself in school. Throughout his childhood, he longs for his own home and the reuniting of his family. Although this is never achieved, he eventually finds a deep sense of home within himself and within his own hopefulness. Lush, glowing illustrations, also by Cooper, parallel Hughes's optimism as he fights against poverty, racism, and loneliness.

Accurate and interesting, Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography, by James Cross Giblin, gives young readers insight into the life of the third US president. It describes Jefferson's personal life as attentive father and husband, as well as his many professional accomplishments - from the Declaration of Independence, to the Louisiana Purchase and the founding of the University of Virginia. Michael Dooling's rich and absorbing oil paintings illustrate the multifaceted nature of this legendary man.

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