By Joe Lugara and Cynthia Tavlin

Our Picks: Patriotic Summer Reading

  |  Theater & Performances  

Sing Your Head Off “Good Songs That Have Stayed Good Songs” is Kathleen Krull’s apt definition for folk music and the standard she used for winnowing thousands of American folk tunes to a select group of 62 in the re-issued, I Hear America Singing!: Folk Songs for American Families (Alfred A. Knopf , $24.95). A treasure trove rich in American history and lore, the songbook includes familiar standards like“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Home on the Range”, as well as lesser known fare such as “Stewball”, a southern work song, and “The Frozen Logger”. In addition to the accessible arrangements for piano and guitar, the comprehensive collection features a brief history of each song’s origin: the popular cowboy ballad “Red River Valley”, for instance, originated in New York State as “The Bright Mohawk Valley”. Originally published in 1992 as Gonna Sing My Head Off, the songbook now includes a 23-song CD featuring various artist recordings of “The Erie Canal”, “Oh, Susanna!”, “Buffalo Gals” and other traditional tunes. Ideal for a family sing-along, the collection also makes a wonderful gift for young pianists and guitarists. Recommended for all ages. Small Town Fourth A pet parade, pitching pennies at the Kiwanis booth, Cub Scouts and fireworks. The pleasures of a small town Fourth of July celebration come alive in Happy Birthday America (Roaring Book Press, $15.95), a short and sweet picture book written by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. Best known by young readers as the author of the popular Magic Tree House series, Osborne wrote the spare narrative after attending a traditional July 4 event in southeastern Pennsylvania. Readers will be left with the feeling they’ve dropped in on any small town U.S.A. thanks to Catalanottos’s vivid and touching illustrations. Recommended for ages 2-8. America the Beautiful Renewed interest in the song many Americans wish was our national anthem has produced a variety of books from Lynn Sherr’s America the Beautiful: the Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation’s Favorite Song, to Barbara Younger’s Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katherine Lee Bates and “America the Beautiful”. Artist Wendell Minor adds a unique edition to the mix, with the simply titled, America the Beautiful (Penguin Putman, $16.99), a breathtaking picture book depicting American treasures — from the Empire State Building to Pike’s Peak — all set to the lines of Katherine Lee Bates’ poem. In addition to several stanzas you probably don’t remember (O beautiful for heroes proved, In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!), the book contains a lot of extras for kids to pore over. Biographies of Bates and Samuel Augustus Ward (composer of the hymn the words were later joined to) are brief and informative, and a “A Sense of Time and Place”, four pages devoted to explaining each of the landscapes or monuments featured, provides a lovely conclusion. Recommended for ages 3 and up. — Cynthia Tavlin Don't Know Much About America? Who discovered America? A) Christopher Columbus B) Leif Eriksson C) Amerigo Vespucci D) The Pilgrims E) None of the above (The answer at the end of this review). Kenneth C. Davis, The New York Times best-selling author of the Don't Know Much About series of books for kids and adults, has turned his focus to U.S. shores in his new enlightener, Don't Know Much About American History (HarperTrophy, $19.99 hardcover, $6.99 paperback). Written for 8- to 12-year-olds, but suitable for use by just about anyone, Davis packs 217 pages with everything of significance, from the first hunter-gatherers to 9/11. Davis' text is very easy to read, not too long, and non-critical; he makes no attempt at any time to pass judgment, functioning instead as a chronicler, using facts, quotes, and portraits of various noted Americans, from Jefferson to Houdini. Highs and lows are both addressed — difficult subjects such as racism, 9/11, and HIV-positive teenager Ryan White's fight to stay in school are all handled directly and without moralizing. Terms (such as HIV and hijacking) are simply defined. Variously illustrated in black-and-white, with photos, contemporary cartoons, and historical illustrations. Answer: E) None of the above. Erik the Red was most likely the first European to reach the "New World", landing in Greenland in the year 982. — Joe Lugara