Allison's Book Bag

My Country Tis of Thee by Claire Rudolph Murphy

Posted on: March 31, 2015

If I have learned anything as a teacher and an author, it’s to have a unique way of presenting information. Claire Rudolph Murphy does exactly this in her picture book, My Country Tis of Thee. This nonfiction text tells not just the story of the beloved song of that name but of many groups who embraced the song and their unique rendition of the song. The illustrations by Brian Collier are also more creative than is common fare for nonfiction. Publication of My Country Tis of Thee has even been followed up with an original promotion.

Murphy starts off by telling readers that more than any other, My Country Tis of Thee traces American’s history of patriotism and protest. Next she takes a step backwards to inform readers that this famous American song actually first appeared in England in the 1700’s to support the king of the time. After that, British colonial soldiers sang the song to celebrate victories in the French and Indian War. Not long after this, however, the song became a part of American history. So far, this might sound like a typical nonfiction text.

However, Murphy then proceeds to explain that while in 1776 the United States declared its independence, not everyone was equally free. Women were not free to vote, to own property, or to make important decisions about their children’s lives. America also did not represent freedom for the four million slaves in the South. These are the groups with which we are most familiar, but Murphy is not yet done. You see labor activists believed that equal rights meant better working conditions, higher pay, an eight-hour workday, and an end to child labor. Moreover, the privilege to vote in 1920 did not extend to Native Americans. Murphy does an excellent job in referencing a wide variety of groups.

I also appreciate that she includes a sample of the verse or poem of My Country Tis of Thee which were written to address various social issues. At the end of her overview of the history of this famous patriotic song, Murphy issues a challenge to readers: “Now it’s your turn. Write a new verse for a cause you believe in.” This challenge even became part a promotion of Murphy’s informative picture book. So far, I have not yet found a deadline for The My Country Tis of Thee Music Project, which invites students, choirs, classes and clubs to submit new lyrics and performance recordings to the tune of ‘My Country Tis of Thee’. However, even if the official contest is over, I could see teachers issuing a similar local challenge.

As I noted at the start, other features of My Country Tis of Thee also stand out. For example, Collier’s watercolor, collage scenes, and portraits are intricately detailed. Befitting the somber topic, the visuals are often somber, with dark and neutral tones. Just as appropriate, however, the atmospheric illustrations are brightened by blues. In addition, the settings and apparel in the artwork will help readers envision the shifts from one period to another.

One last feature must be noted before I end my review and that is the end content. Murphy includes a Source Notes for every page. She lists seven books as part of her bibliography. For those who want to learn more, and you very well might for Murphy gives only a glimpse into our patriotic songs, she suggests nine additional sources. Last, on her website, one can find musical performances of all the protest verses. My Country Tis of Thee is a true work of craftsmanship.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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