For anyone born into a freedom-loving society, the meaning of freedom can easily be taken for granted. For those not born in a freedom-loving society, the idea of freedom is almost inconceivable. As one North Korean defector put it, “It’s difficult for most to ‘escape for freedom’ in part because there is no concept of freedom… so how can one be motivated to do something for the sake of an unknown idea?” While the details of tragic circumstances like this are likely too heavy for the Primerrily kid (though, we respect parent’s discretion!), we see no better time than now to introduce the basic idea and preciousness of freedom. We love these books for touching on ways that freedom is symbolized, sought, practiced, and protected in America.
The Children’s Book of America (by William J. Bennett)
A compilation of 27 classic stories, poems, and folktales celebrating American life and history are curated by William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan. As one of the richest tomes for reading aloud to your children, this is a gift for toddlers and their parents alike. It revisits folk songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and inspirational speeches like Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream.” You’ll be moved by the bravery of Abigail Adams, the resourcefulness of Sacagawea, the generosity of Johnny Appleseed and Margaret of New Orleans, and the pioneering spirit powering the first astronauts to the moon. With 110 pages of watercolor illustrations and 24 stories and songs, this treasured compendium is sure to become a family heirloom for its generation-spanning capture of the free American spirit.
Lesson: As President Truman said, “America has never been built on fear.” From Lewis and Clark to the Apollo astronaut crew, brave, generous, resourceful, and innovative Americans from every generation have built the country we love.
Ideas for discussion:
America, just like anyone or anything, is built on years of history and stories. They shape who and what we are today. Learning about them helps us understand the fabric of America -- where we come from. What are some moments or stories from your life that you think make you who you are? That make you unique?
Ask your child: What do you love most about America? What will you do that will make America even better?
Ask your child: Which is your favorite story? Is it learning about Abe Lincoln’s days at school? Or how Margaret the milk woman helped feed the orphans of New Orleans? What do you admire most about that person and how can you emulate their best qualities in your life?
Ask your child: What does it mean to be American?
Activity: Try reading one story each day of the month -- and writing your own American biographies for the remaining days! Whose story would you tell and which quality of theirs would you highlight?
Stubby- A True Story of Friendship (by Michael Foreman )
This true story about a stray dog, named Stubby, who becomes the most decorated war dog of WWI. Stubby humanizes the military in a way that perhaps only a dog can. From an army training camp, to the trenches in France, this incredible true story follows Sergeant Stubby, sniffing out gas attacks, catching spies, and winning the hearts of his fellow soldiers -- as well as readers young and old. Along the way, he experiences both war and peace -- and a reminder that freedom isn’t free -- it is the result of the sacrifices of many.
Lesson: Freedom isn’t free -- it was fought for and won by the generations before us.
Ideas for discussion:
Ask your child: What do you admire most about Stubby? What about the other men in his regiment?
Ask your child: Stubby likes to salute the officers to show them respect. What are some ways you show respect to your parents? Your teachers? Your friends?
Ask your child: When Stubby returns to the regiment, the townspeople make him a jacket with badges and medals to reflect his bravery. What are some things that you could do to earn a badge or medal? Let’s make badges out of construction paper for our everyday acts of bravery, dedication, and kindness. Give them to your friends, \teachers, and family members.
Her Right Foot (by Dave Eggers)
This is one of our favorite books -- for its bold illustrations (many worthy of a frame) and for its underlying observation about the Statue of Liberty -- namely that her foot is raised mid-stride and she is on the move! “Liberty and Freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest.” With imagery of immigrants taking their oath and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s a reminder that freedom cannot wait upon a pedestal (“she must meet them in the sea!”)
Lesson: Our values can’t just be frozen in time -- they have to be in action! In this case Lady Liberty is a reminder that freedom must keep moving forward to every new American citizen and every generation.
Ideas for discussion:
Ask your child: If you were a statue, describe how you would look? How would you stand? What does your statue represent?
Activity: Draw or build a statue together that your child just described. Be creative with your building “materials” (e.g., Popsicle sticks, Legos, blocks) and think through what types of props (like Lady Liberty’s tablet) that you would include to convey the monument’s deeper meaning.
Captain Cat (by Syd Hoff)
Captain Cat has joined the army! He has whiskers and paws, and more stripes than even soldiers have seen. But, most importantly, he has a best friend who can make army barracks feel like home. The friendship between a patriotic, lovable cat and his friend in the military aims to show the human side of our armed forces. Written in simplistic text, this one is great for beginner readers.
Lesson: Soldiers are brothers, sisters, moms, dads, uncles, aunts -- basically, they are just like the grown ups you know! And they long for a connection to home.
Ideas for discussion:
Ask your child: If you had to go on a long trip far away from home, what is the one item you would bring with you to make you feel close to home?
Ask your child: What are some ways we can let the soldiers defending America overseas know that we are grateful for them?
Have your child write letters or color pictures for soldiers serving our country. Explain how sending encouraging messages lifts spirits and helps them do their important job! You can find an address to send your letters to at Support Our Troops or Operation Gratitude’s website.