Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, January 7, 2013

...From Sea To Shining Sea

Katharine Lee Bates taught English literature for forty years at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  As the story goes in 1893 after a trek by wagon, mule and foot to the top of Pike's Peak, she was so inspired by the landscape spread before her, she wrote a poem in her journal. Two years later it was first published and has since evolved into one of our nation's most cherished songs, America The Beautiful.

For eight years my two favorite books of this song were both published in 2004.  In his debut picture book illustrator Chris Gall depicts the poem in stunning visuals.  Here are two sentences from the review at Kirkus (March 1, 2004)

Gall, an actual descendant of Bates, illustrates the four verses of this country's other national anthem with bold, clean-lined, heroic American scenes, from a sturdy rural couple contemplating their "amber waves," to firefighters raising a flag over the ruins at Ground Zero.  This broadly idealistic art is infused with a spirit of inclusiveness, as blind Justice towers over a woman in judicial robes, a Tuskegee Airman poses heroically atop his fighter, and in the concluding spread, East meets West in more ways than one at Utah's Promontory Point.

In the middle of October paper engineer, Robert Sabuda gave readers his interpretation.  In a starred review Kirkus (October 1, 2004) states:

The wizard of pop-ups has created a masterpiece---in design, in execution, in boldness of vision, and in artistic and historic integrity.  

In an effort to fill my book gap challenge, several days ago when participating in one of my favorite pastimes, browsing in a bookstore, my attention was completely captured by a new joyful cover of a book titled, America the Beautiful Together We Stand (Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.).  Ten notable illustrators, Bryan Collier, Raul Colon, Diane Goode, Mary GrandPre, John Hendrix, Yuyi Morales, Jon J Muth, LeUyen Pham, Sonia Lynn Sadler and Chris Soentpiet have each contributed in their unique illustrative styles to give a new vision to this poetic song.  The result is as varied and resplendent as the land in which we live.

Beginning with O beautiful for spacious skies, the luminous paintings of Chris Soentpiet display a group of happy, shouting, singing children from all ethnic backgrounds holding and waving small American flags with fireworks blossoming above them.  The play of light on each of the faces is a joy to behold.  The detail is nearly photographic.

The pastel painting of Mary GrandPre lights up For amber waves of grain, showing children at play.  A large tree branch in an open field has become their ship adorned in colored cloths for sails and flags birds flying in the sky around them.  They are joined by a happy barking dog.

Raul Colon's distinctive use of watercolor paper, watercolor washes, etching, colored pencils and litho pencils breathes beauty into For purple mountain majesties.  His representation of these words is one of the finest I have ever seen.   Mountains provide a backdrop for five children, (equal in size to the mountains) engaged in activities, basketball, paper airplane flying, skateboarding, baseball and jumping rope.

Sonia Lynn Sadler's usual medium is colored scratchboard.  Her depiction of Above the fruited plain! is a gathering of people from all walks of life of all ages gathered around a large quilt which they are stitching together.  The pieces of the quilt are pictures of Americana from East to West.  Everything is outlined in a fine white line accentuating this colorful array.

America! is shown in a powerful image by Bryan Collier in his technique of watercolor collage.  A faint dark sky blue image of our flag provides the background for tree branches showing faces.  Prominently displayed is a young child hands firmly grasped in front over the tree.

The second America! done in soft greens by Jon J Muth shows a forest glen.  His watercolor artwork focuses on two children tending to a newly sprouted tree.  One child is kneeling next to it as the other carries a watering can, a small turtle crawling away to the left.  A feeling of serenity permeates.

With shades of red overtone, Yuyi Morales renders her signature illustration in acrylics.  God shed His grace on thee is vividly visualized by a close-up of workers in a field of green taking a break in their labors, eating and drinking, small children with them.  As two hummingbirds flutter by, music drifts out from the portable radio in one of the worker's pockets.

Diane Goode's pen and ink drawings highlighting And crown thy good in pale teals, browns, a brighter green, red, white and blue intricately depict historic moments and accomplishments.  Towering over these is a young adult handing off a crown of laurel leaves to another four, hands linked.  All are balanced on stepping stones in water.

LeUyen Pham who in an interview stated she likes to keep people guessing about her medium, brush pens, watercolor, gouache, pencil or computer, has masterfully painted rows of children not only resembling the American flag but the shape of the United States.  Her illustration is on the front cover and interprets with brotherhood... .The playful pyramid nearly rings with laughter.

The final two pages, From sea to shining sea! drawn by John Hendrix are extraordinary.  On the left we see an old sea vessel floating above the clouds manned by children garbed in attire from various time periods.  As the clouds part on the right mountains turn in a landscape showcasing a geographical tableau replete with all manner of buildings and landmarks as his circular, starry, stylistic  fireworks are placed across the golden sky and page.  Every time I gaze at this illustration I see something new, something particular to our country.

When unfolding the jacket from the cover readers are treated to a vertical colorful portrait display of all forty-four presidents; a poster.  Rich, blue endpapers, front and back, display rows of white stars.  A turn of page lists each of the illustrators in alphabetical order alternating the color of their names in red and white on the same blue background.  After the simple title page the series of exquisite nearly two page illustrations begin, each interpreting a portion of the song.

Alternating first on the right side, then on the left, each pictorial representation leaves a small column in which a presidential quote appears.  Above each quote is a significant national landmark or symbol. At the close of the song these items are listed in the order they appeared with an explanation.  The final two pages include all four verses of the song, a small paragraph titled Our Democracy followed by a Thomas Jefferson quote and a small biographical paragraph about Katharine Lee Bates.

This is by far the longest review, assessment, of any book for which I have posted on this blog.  I wanted to focus on the artwork of each individual illustrator knowing how much time each invested in their depiction of their given words.  America the Beautiful Together We Stand is an absolutely gorgeous array of artwork; an exhibition of various mediums from masters in the field of children's book illustration.

I can see multiple uses for this title; a study of the poem becoming a beloved song, a study of various artistic styles and mediums or examining the representations for the words each illustrator chose.  I have embedded links to each illustrator's website or if they had none, the most recent discussion of their work.  This title comes highly recommended; it's stunning.

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