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The Picturing America Bookshelf

The We the People “Picturing America” Bookshelf is the literary complement of NEH’s Picturing AmericaSM visual arts project. Instead of paint, marble, silver, or glass, words are the media used to portray significant themes in American history and culture. Readers are invited to steer their way across the continent by river with Lewis and Clark in 1802, travel the railroad with Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879, or drive along the open highways with John Steinbeck and his dog Charley in 1960. Through the life and poetry of Walt Whitman emerge powerful images of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln; through the life and lens of Dorothea Lange we witness the impersonal forces and human faces of the Depression.

Four thousand libraries received the “Picturing America” Bookshelf—a collection of seventeen classic hardcover books for young readers, all on the “Picturing America” theme. In addition, libraries received three of these books in Spanish translation, two “Books for Readers of All Ages,” and materials for programming, including bookplates, bookmarks, and posters.


Books selected for the “Picturing America” Bookshelf were:

Kindergarten to Grade 3

  • Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley
  • Cosechando esperanza: La historia de César Chávez by Kathleen Krull (translated by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy)
  • Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
  • The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Sweet Music in Harlem by Debbie Taylor

Grades 4 to 6

  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  • American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
  • On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck
  • Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet
  • The Captain's Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe by Roland Smith

Grades 7 to 8

  • The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman
  • La leyenda de Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (translated by Manuel Broncano)
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  • Across America on an Emigrant Train by Jim Murphy
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Grades 9 to 12

  • Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
  • Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange by Elizabeth Partridge
  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Viajes con Charley - en busca de América by John Steinbeck (translated by José Manuel Alvarez Flórez)
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Bonus books for readers of all ages:

  • Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out by The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance
  • 1776: The Illustrated Edition by David McCullough

Applications and awards:

Applications are no longer being accepted. The application period was September , 2008, through January 30, 2009.

In April 2009, 4,000 libraries received the “Picturing America” Bookshelf. Find the names and locations of the libraries that received awards.

Programs on the theme “Picturing America” theme take place in libraries between May 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010.

Learn more about the We the People Bookshelf project.


Sam Paints Sam
Image courtesy of Julie Paschkis (www.juliepaschkis.com)
Harvesting Hope
Harcourt Children’s Books.
The Birchbark House
© 1999 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion Books for Children. All rights reserved.
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse
Illustration by Amos Bad Heart Bull; courtesy Holiday House.
Restless Spirit
© 1998 by Elizabeth Partridge. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a Division of Penguin Young Readers Group, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Our White House
© 2008 by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. Jacket illustration © 2008 David Macaulay. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Inc.