Making History

American history comes alive in a variety of informational titles. Carol Diggory Shields condenses history into 41 short poems in Brainjuice: American History Fresh Squeezed!, illus. by Richard Thompson, beginning with, appropriately, "The First," a ditty about dinosaurs ("The first Americans who roamed the prairie/ Were kind of big and kind of scary") and ending with "The Lady," a paean to the Statue of Liberty, which Shields casts as witness to the destruction of the World Trade Center. Poems about the Wright brothers, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and "The Great War" (WWI) are among the poems that fall along the timeline that runs at the top of the pages. Thompson, a political cartoonist, offers appropriate doses of humor and poignancy. (Handprint [Chronicle, dist.], $14.95 80p ages 7-up ISBN 1-929766-62-9; Dec.)

Women activists take center stage in Rabble Rousers: 20 Women Who Made a Difference by Cheryl Harness. The volume opens in 1776 with Ann Lee, founder of the first Shaker colony in Niskeyuna, N.Y. (near Albany), and closes with the ongoing story of 92-year-old Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who walked cross-country in 1999 in an effort to draw attention to the issue of campaign finance reform. The leaders are grouped within the abolitionist, women's, labor and civil rights movements. Readers will gobble up the wealth of information here. Back matter contains "civil action tips," resource listings and suggestions for further reading. (Dutton, $17.99 64p ages 7-11 ISBN 0-525-47035-2; Jan.)

The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence by Dennis Brindell Fradin, with Michael McCurdy's signature scratchboard illustrations, profiles the 56 men who made the document. The handsomely designed volume organizes the brief biographies by colony, showing its territory at the time of the signing, and lists the names of the men hailing from each, along with their vital statistics (birth and death dates, wife, children, age at signing, etc.). A reproduction of the original Declaration, alongside a transcript that's easier on the eyes, draws the presentation to a close. (Walker, $22.95 160p ages 10-up ISBN 0-8027-8849-1; Nov.)

Presidential history buffs will devour George Washington: The Writer: A Treasury of Letters, Diaries, and Public Documents, edited by Carolyn P. Yoder. Presented chronologically, the volume begins with a journal entry written when Washington was just 16, surveying land for Lord Fairfax on Virginia's frontier; the final entry, one day before his death, is a report of his daily rounds of the farm. Yoder introduces each entry, explaining the personal and political context in which it was written. Period engravings, etchings and portraits illustrate the volume. (Boyds Mills, $16.95 142p ages 8-up ISBN 1-56397-199-2; Feb.)

The first president is also a subject in one of two new entries in Kenneth C. Davis's Don't Know Much About series. George Washington, illus. by Rob Shepperson, and Sitting Bull, illus. by Sergio Martinez, both follow the author's established q&a format and present an abundance of information, both weighty and frivolous, about these important American figures. (HarperTrophy, $4.99 each paper 128p ages 8-12 ISBN 0-06-442124-4; -442125-2; Jan.)

Cheryl Harness zeroes in on America's second president in The Revolutionary John Adams. The lengthy text, with a generous sprinkling of quotes and paintings that evoke the period, puts special emphasis on Adams's role in the Continental Congress and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. A timeline places his presidency (1797—1801) in the context of world events. (National Geographic, $17.95 48p ages 8-12 ISBN 0-7922-6970-5; Dec.)

From the Air and Space Museum to the National Zoo and 24 stops in between, Capital!: Washington D.C. from A to Z by Laura Krauss Melmed, illus. by Frané Lessac, takes readers on a tour of the nation's capital and simultaneously offers a history lesson in verse. "At Kitty Hawk the brothers Wright/ Became the first to soar in flight./ Now mankind is exploring space!/ Learn how it happened, in this place" introduces the first stop; informative captions pepper Lessac's folkloric illustrations, and quotes appear throughout. (HarperCollins, $15.99 48p ages 6-up ISBN 0-688-17561-9; Jan.)

"Many, many years ago, when streets were dirt roads, when wagon wheels turned and buffalo roamed,... my grandfather and grandmother left their home in Japan to come to America," begins In America's Shadow by Kimberly Komatsu and Kaleigh Komatsu. Told from the perspective of a girl, the spare narrative recalls the experience of one Japanese-American family during the early days of the 20th century and their eventual internment during WWII at California's Manzanar Relocation Camp. Period photographs, many from the authors' collection, illustrate the volume and convey the breathtaking landscape and their cozy town of Hanna, Wyo., as well as the bleak transformation brought about by the war. (Thomas George [626-572-3544], $35 96p ages 8-up ISBN 0-9709829-0-9; Feb.)

Based on the shipboard journals of John Ledyard, just 25 when he joined Capt. James Cook's crew to discover the Northwest Passage in 1776, Laurie Lawlor's Magnificent Voyage: An American Adventurer on Captain James Cook's Final Expedition is thorough and engaging. Ledyard gained notoriety when he published, in America, his account of Cook's death before British officials had a chance to issue their report; in 1786 Paris, he befriended Thomas Jefferson. Period etchings, maps and primary documents illustrate the text. (Holiday, $22.95 176p ages 10-up ISBN 0-8234-1575-9; Dec.)

African-American History

African-American heroes take center stage in American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm by Gail Buckley, adapted for younger readers by Tonya Bolden, from the author's adult book (with the same title). The volume spotlights the role of African-Americans from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War, including Vaughn Love (who fought during the Spanish Civil War), Col. Fred V. Cherry, a POW in Vietnam, and Colin Powell, four-star general in Desert Storm. Among the women profiled: Maj. Charity Adams and Lt. Harriet Pickens, both of whom served in WWII, and Maj. Flossie Satcher, who served in Desert Storm. Direct quotes and a 16-page photo inset give the historical accounts a sense of urgency. (Crown, $15.95 ages 10-up ISBN 0-375-82243-7; Jan.)

Catherine Reef describes the founding of Liberia in 1822 by members of the American Colonization Society, who wished to set up a colony for free blacks and former captives, in This Is Our Dark Country: The American Settlers of Liberia. Period photographs and engravings illustrate the volume. Reef's epilogue looks at modern-day Liberia and adds a sobering note: the country is now war-torn and economically unstable. (Clarion, $17 144p ages 9-14 ISBN 0-61814785-3; Nov.)

Taking the title from the gospel song "How I Got Over," Eloise Greenfield discusses, through 13 biographies, how African-Americans "were able to get on with their lives, in spite of pain, grief and enormous obstacles" in How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea, illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Paul Cuffe, an African-American shipbuilder, a member of the American Colonization Society and a founder of a colony for free blacks in Sierra Leone, leads the way. A wide range of individuals people the volume, including Rear Adm. Evelyn J. Fields, who holds the highest position in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and Alex Haley, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard at age 17 and, the author asserts, "became a writer during his life at sea, and at least partly because of it." (HarperCollins/Amistad, $16.99 128p ages 8-11 ISBN 0-06-028991-0; Dec.)