Monday, February 18th is President’s Day and since our school celebrates with an entire week off I thought, in preparation, this week would be a good time to talk with my students about US presidents. I found an inspiring picture book to help me out, America the Beautiful: Together We Stand. The words of Katharine Lee Bates’ patriotic song are paired with stunning illustrations. How fitting - ten illustrators interpret lines from the song, demonstrating the diversity of this country and the process of “standing together.” The illustrators, in alphabetical order, are: Bryan Collier, Raul Colon, Diane Goode, Mary GrandPre, John Hendrix, Yuyi Morales, Jon J Muth, LeUyen Pham, Sonia Lynn Sadler, and Chris Soentpiet.
This book features quotes from past presidents, one on each two-page spread. Since the speeches weren’t written for early elementary school students, their words create opportunities to introduce new vocabulary. I was also able to probe for sentence and paragraph comprehension. When I came to a quote from Thomas Jefferson, I asked the kids what they thought he meant by, “I believe . . . that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.”
Zayd said, “Be good to other people and don’t do anything bad to other people and don’t teach them bad words. Be kind, be safe, and be responsible.” His last statement was a quote from our school rules. I’m glad he made the connection between those words and Jefferson’s.
Malachi said, “Be kind, be safe, be responsible and don’t ever jump off a house roof.” He expanded a bit on our school rules, but it’s good advice, all the same. And it’s pertinent.
Madison said, “Help other people and be nice. It makes you feel good.” She really understood.
I did some pre-teaching on vocabulary before I introduced Ronald Reagan’s quote. By the time I read the words, “Our most precious resources, our greatest hope for the future, are the minds and hearts of our people, especially our children,” the kids grew quiet. I asked what they thought president Reagan meant and Joden said, “We’re important to our parents.”
I agreed, but told him, he, and the other students, were also important to me and to our country and our world. I reminded them that some day they’d grow up; they might become leaders or teachers or work in ways that make our world a better place. Their eyes sparkled with solemn enthusiasm.
The illustrated children on the cover of America the Beautiful also seem to sparkle with enthusiasm as they stand together, supporting one another in reaching for a star. This special book celebrates America’s values and introduces information about national landmarks and symbols. However, it also celebrates human diversity and unity. My hope is that children everywhere will find loving support, enabling them to reach for the stars.