After breakfast Jet said, “Let’s read that airplane book Grandma!”
“The airplane book? I’m not sure which book you mean.”
“The one with the airplane!” I held out my hands for more clues. “The one we sing together! The one that made you cry, Grandma.”
Ahhh…. THAT book. The one we sing. The one that made me cry. America the Beautiful (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, c 2003) is a gorgeous children’s book illustrated by Wendell Minor. Based on the poem by Katherine Lee Bates it includes the music by Samuel Augustus Ward. Minor’s artwork brings the words and music to life in a way that moves us both and makes us want to read and sing it again and again.
Jet had been thinking of the illustration of the Wright Brother’s first successful flight at Kitty Hawk that serves as the backdrop for one of the stanzas. Airplanes have been on Jet’s mind a lot lately, because both her daddy and papa flew in them during the last month, but the book also takes us to the “purple mountain majesties” of Wyoming, the shining seas of Oregon and Massachusetts and many other beautiful places in between.
Like most children, Jet loves nursery rhyme books and songs so I’m always on the lookout for something new to sing. Neither of us had seen this book before the first time we read it together, but by the second verse, Jet was singing the chorus right along with me. We proceeded through “O beautiful for pilgrim feet,” which she accepted without question and “O beautiful for heroes proved,” which raised many concerns about the people carved into Mount Rushmore and whether they were boys or girls. (Jet was firmly of the opinion that Washington and Jefferson were women.) Next, a shuttle launch and an eagle at Cape Canaveral illustrated “O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years.” Jet was very excited to see the bald eagle.
My voice broke and my eyes filled when I turned the next page to see “…Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears,” illustrated by the skyline of New York featuring two shafts of light in place of the twin towers. Jet was concerned. “What’s wrong Grandma? Do you have tears in your eyes? Are you sad Grandma?”
“Yes, Jet, this page makes me remember something sad.”
“What makes you sad?”
I didn’t want to say anything scary. ‘There was an accident and two buildings fell down. Lots of people were hurt. These lights are to remember the buildings and thinking about what happened makes me sad.” Jet seemed satisfied with my answer.
I pulled myself together and we sang on to the end. Jet wanted to sing it again, so we did. At the end of the book, we found a map of the United States showing the site of each illustration. Jet wanted to see each page and each place on the map. We found a picture of Texas where papa was visiting Aunt Lisa and Vermont where Aunt Robin lives and we looked at both places on the map. I’m pretty sure that I found maps boring as a child, but Jet was thrilled. She wanted to see her state, Aunt Patty’s state, and the state where papa grew up.
As we worked outside today, Jet helped me plant and water some new additions to the garden. Suddenly, she burst into song, “America, America, God shed his grace on dee and crown dye good with brudderhood from sea to shining sea!” It was a beautiful day in our little piece of America.