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Purple Mountain Majesties: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates and America the Beautiful

by Barbara Younger
Illustrated by Stacey Schuett

Published by Dutton, 1998
32 pages
ISBN: 0-525-45653-8

Ages 5 - 9

It's not often we find primary research in a history book for children, much less in a picture-book biography. For this exemplary work, first-time author Barbara Younger went directly to the Wellesley College Archives, home of the diaries and letters of Katharine Lee Bates, and communicated with family members in order to research the subject of this lively historical account. Born in Massachusetts in 1868, Bates never considered herself a writer, although she kept a diary from age nine. In reconstructing Bates's life, Younger knows exactly what and how much to quote from these diaries in order to give young readers a sense of who Bates was and what the world was like when she lived. Always an adventurous free spirit, her cross-country trip in 1893 to attend the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and to accompany a group of fellow teachers to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado provided the direct inspiration for her poem "America the Beautiful." When it was published two years later in the July 4th issue of The Congregationalist, it quickly became a national sensation. Originally it was sung to many different tunes; although a contest for original music yielded over 900 entries, a hymn composed by Samuel Ward continues to be the tune we use today. Younger's account is further enriched with intriguing details culled from Bates's life story, which will surely appeal to children: the fact that she used to read books about dogs to her dog, hold parties for parrots, was one of the first to ride a Ferris wheel, and saw a knight made entirely out of prunes at the Chicago Exposition, for example. Schuett's luminous paintings also bring the subject to life through her attention to historical detail and her skillful renderings of the majestic landscapes that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to heights of poetry more than 100 years ago. CCBC categories: Biography / Autobiography; The Arts.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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