If you’re anything like me, you might be feeling a tad bit ambivalent about our nation’s impending birthday on July 4th. If you have kids, you’re still going to put that American flag shirt on them for a cute Instagram photo, and you’re going to have the party, the BBQ, all of it. Where last year you made the American flag berry dessert with gusto, this year your heart isn’t in it. As you hull those strawberries, picked by brown immigrant hands, you can’t help but think of other sets of brown immigrant hands – a three year old child reaching out for her mother as she’s pulled away – and wonder what the fuck you’re doing making a whipped cream dessert instead of going to the border to put your body between a migrant and an ICE agent.
Or maybe that’s just me?
I grew up in a military family. On Memorial Day, we went to a service. On flag day, we raised ours high. On July 4th, we celebrated. On Veterans Day, we did service projects for the VFW or American Legion posts in my town. I grew up in a home where it was “My Country, right or wrong” and I knew even from a young age, that this was, to be frank, bullshit.
Do we say, “My Church, right or wrong”? Of course not. At least we shouldn’t. Maybe if more people didn’t think that way, abusive priests would have been stopped sooner. No institution is above reproach. None. And if not our Church, than for sure not our Country.
Yet, for all the injustice that has been perpetrated by the United States, there is undeniably much good that has been done by Americans as well. In Scripture it says that the weeds and the wheat grow together and I can’t help but think that’s how it is in our humanity and institutions. Profound injustice and in the face of that injustice, people who were not even allowed to be people, stepped forward and carried the burden of our ideals.
Let’s focus on that this July 4th. The Americans who took the words of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to heart – even as they did not yet count as persons themselves – and brought those words to life. The people of color, Native peoples, and women of this nation who put flesh on the bones of democracy, all while fighting the men who penned those pretty words.
In our home, the best way that we talk about these hard things is by reading. There are so many wonderful books out there that highlight the contributions of ALL Americans, and the values of equality, empathy, compassion, and creativity that have already made this nation great.
Here are my top five selections for children’s books that will give you hope if you are feeling sad, angry, or confused this July 4th. I hope that one or more of these selections will boost your spirits and lead to great conversations with your children and families. And make the berry dessert. Trust me.
5 Books to Save July 4th
1. Americans by Douglas Wood
2. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
3. The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter
4. Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus