Of Statue of Liberty and an Indian American author’s poetic ode to the American flag

Pages from the book ‘Blue Sky White Stars’ by Sarvinder Naberhaus, with illustrations by Kadir Nelson.

NEW YORK: This July 4th weekend, as you take in the fluttering waves of the American flag, hoisted high on poles, on motor vehicles, embedded in rows on sticks in lawns, relax by grilling, drinking with family and friends, enjoy fireworks in honor of America’s independence, it would be a great idea to introduce young readers to a beautiful book titled ‘Blue Sky White Stars’ (Dial Books for Young Readers; hardcover; $17.99) written by the Punjab-born, and Iowa-raised Sarvinder Naberhaus, with lovely illustrations by acclaimed artist Kadir Nelson.

If you think Haiku poems are short, then Naberhaus’ wonderfully spare, deceptively simple verses are a revelation in itself. With a word or two, on a page, combined with Nelson’s sumptuous paintings, the American flag comes alive in a richly evocative tableau.

America’s diversity, resilience, accomplishments, vast landscape are explored by highlighting each aspect of the American flag – with words and paintings to match it – that will not only intrigue and pique the interest of young readers, but is sheer pleasure for readers of all age groups.

From the Statue of Liberty, fireworks going off with the New York City skyline in the background, Civil Rights marchers banded together, to a spacecraft at Cape Canaveral blasting off, landing on the Moon, and reminiscences from the past with family, ‘Blue Sky White Stars’ is a tribute to America over the ages.

Nelson drew inspiration from the history of the US, with period flags from different eras, ranging from the Civil War, Betsy Ross’s creation, to the modern day incarnation of the stars and stripes, and classic works of art like Norman Rockwell’s ‘The Golden Rule’.

Naberhaus moved to Ames, Iowa, in 1965, when she was four years old, after her father got a veterinary medicine scholarship. In notes to ‘Blue Sky White Stars’, she informs that in the early 1920s, her great-grandfather Boota Singh Bal boarded a ship for America, but then changed his mind at the last minute and got off. She has dedicated her book also to all the generations of immigrants, who now call America home.

My favorite two pages in ‘Blue Sky White Stars’ are ones which show a painting of a woman sewing a large American flag, with words in two lines, ‘Sew Together Won Nation’, and the facing page, a painting of a collage of faces depicting America’s diversity of cultures and religions, with the words, again in two lines, ‘So Together One Nation’.

The book starts off with a painting of the most visited statue in America, the Statue of Liberty, awash in gentle light that reflects off water, stars glinting in a gorgeous blue sky. On the facing page is a painting highlighting the sky and stars portion of the flag, which is also the title of the book.

Statue of Liberty

This weekend, I visited the Statue of Liberty, with family.

In my almost two decades in the US, although I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty several times at night on party cruises on the Hudson River, it was my first visit to Liberty Island, via a ferry from Battery Park, in Manhattan.

The most striking difference is the size of the copper statue itself – when one actually sees it from ground up, rather than from a distance, off a boat in the water. From ground level to torch, it’s an awesome total of 305 feet, 1 inch.

A gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, and designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, according to Wikipedia.

The female figure of the statue represents Libertas, the Roman goddess. She holds a torch above her head, and in her left arm carries a tabula ansata inscribed in Roman numerals with “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776), the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue was the first thing new immigrants on boats saw of America.

Contrary to what I always thought, according to the United States Census Bureau, the 14 plus acre-Liberty Island doesn’t belong to New York, but is the property of New Jersey. A pact between New York and New Jersey states that New York has control of the Island, but taxes go to New Jersey, and the power comes from Jersey City.

Some 3-4 million visitors visit the Statue of Liberty annually, but the trip has become more time-consuming with airport-like security measures at ferry launch points in New York and New Jersey, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Battery Park security building needs expansion to accommodate the rush of visitors in security lines, ensure smooth flow of visitors. A museum coming up in 2019 will likely mean more visitors, a bit more of a wait to see Lady Liberty.



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