BOOK REVIEW: ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’

Washington Times
January 21, 2014
Michael Taube

Writing a book of fiction or nonfiction is a difficult task. There’s an enormous amount of choice for reading material. It’s a highly competitive environment. Properly gauging your audience can be hit or miss. Readers can also be fickle creatures.

This is nothing compared to writing a children’s book, however.

The Russian writer Maxim Gorky said, “You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better.” Children are picky readers and tough consumers. They know exactly what they want in a book, and will ignore what they perceive as inferior products. According to children’s literary agent Andrea Brown, “the best children’s book writers are not people who have kids, but people who write from the child within themselves.”

Callista Gingrich, wife of former GOP House Speaker and CNN’s Crossfire panelist Newt Gingrich, fits this bill perfectly. Since 2011, she has written three superb children’s books on important events in American history. Young readers are guided by the smiling Ellis the Elephant (who is bound to make some Republicans happy), and will enjoy Susan Arciero’s beautiful illustrations. Each book also contains a list of resources for curious young minds who crave to learn even more.

Mrs. Gingrich told “Fox and Friends” in Sept. 2011 that the first book in her series, “Sweet Land of Liberty,” was “really a patriotic book. It’s not a Republican book, it’s not a conservative book. It’s a pro-American book.” It’s true: there’s not a whiff of politics to be found in Ellis’ journey to “the library, an amazing place” to learn about great American achievements. Children from ages 4-8, therefore, live vicariously through Ellis to gain a greater appreciation of their country’s rich and vast history. It helps explain why this book, and the follow-up “Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride,” in which “Ellis packed up his trunk and hit liberty’s trail,” both reached The New York Times’ bestseller list for Children’s Picture Books.

Mrs. Gingrich’s newest title, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which is about the American Revolution, follows the same successful formula from the two previous volumes. She uses rhyming couplets to summarize great historical figures, landmarks, battles and moments. Young children will see that history can be fun — and their parents will appreciate that they’re learning at the same time.

Here are some examples of her rhyming couplets. Mrs. Gingrich deftly examines the Boston Tea Party and the actions of the “brave Sons of Liberty”:

“They climbed aboard boats, disguised in the night,

“and proclaimed to the King, ‘This tax is not right!’

“They threw the tea overboard into the bay.

The Boston Tea Party is what we call it today.”

She explores aspects of the Second Continental Congress:

“In Philadelphia, the Founding Fathers gathered to proclaim,

” ‘All men are created equal, with liberty just the same.’

” ‘This,’ they told the King, ‘we believe to be true,’

” ‘our rights come from God — they don’t come from you!’ “

Ellis, who “loved America’s story,” appears in every historical account. Sometimes, he’s dressed in traditional civilian garb. Other times, he’s wearing a wig or an American Indian headdress. Through it all, the happy elephant is learning about the birth of a new nation — and his young admirers are right there beside him.

In “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Ellis was surprised to learn the people had no say, about the rules that governed their lives every day.” Children will witness Paul Revere’s famous ride (“The British are coming!”) and pay homage to Patrick Henry’s powerful statement (“Give me liberty or give me death!). They will learn more about John Adams’ relationship with his wife, Abigail, who “wrote many letters to her dear husband John, sharing advice and cheering him on.” They will even find out “George Washington was a King they could all get behind. But to Ellis’ surprise, the General politely declined.”

By the book’s end, the little smiling elephant is waving an American flag and beaming with pride. Her concluding couplets have a heartwarming and patriotic tone, “Ellis remembered those who had sacrificed so much to create a better life, and he was truly touched. Now Ellis understood how our independence was won. With faith, hope, and courage, a new nation had begun.”

Callista Gingrich has created one of the most impressive children’s book series in recent years. Her love for her country can be seen in every footstep Ellis takes in these three memorable volumes. As this small elephant discovers U.S. history, young children will never forget his great adventures.

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