Cover of Naming LIberty by Jane Yolen

Naming Liberty

Pictures by Jim Burke
Philomel 2008
ISBN# 0399242503

At first the editor, Pat Gauch, and I were talking about a book simply relating the building of the Statue of Liberty, a new project for Jim Burke with whom I had done the successful My Brother’s Flying Machine. However, as I began my research, I found too many other picture books-some quite wonderful-that had already done that simple bit of telling. So I knew I had to find a different way to tell the story. And then suddenly, in one flash of inspiration, I knew-it would be a double story, of a Jewish child from the Ukraine (as my father had been, only a little girl in this telling) coming to America and seeing the Statue for the first time. The simultaneous stories of girl and Statue would need to have corresponding moments, and it was finding those moments, those “story beats,” that were the hardest and at the same time the most satisfying part of writing the book. Jim Burke’s paintings are-as of course I expected-marvelous. My favorite is a two page spread of a train passing across parts of Eastern Europe with wolves watching from behind the trees.

The original printing had a screwed-up page, and so it had to be dealt with before the book could be released. So it was delayed two months, in which time a similar book came out and caught all the publicity! Sigh.


  • A Sydney Taylor/Association of Jewish Libraries Award, 2009 Honor Book.


  • A piece of art from the book was accepted into the “Original Art Show” at the Society of Illustrators” in New York City in 2008.

What reviewers have said:

  • “Yolen’s graceful text and Burke’s illustrations balance the events of emotions of the parallel stories . .The two Atlantic crossings come together in one New York Harbor view of the copper Statue, symbolizing the unifying themes of new ideas, freedom and the opportunity for a fresh start.”-Kirkus
  • “A classic tale of an immigrant dream, Yolen’s heartfelt “Naming Liberty” is told in two parallel strands – one of a Jewish girl who longs for an American name as she crosses the ocean with her family, and of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the man who built the Statue of Liberty. A lovely tale with lush paintings by Burke, Yolen’s story captures the dreams and passions of freedom as felt by a young immigrant girl and an artist. . . .Readers will be reminded of how special America has always been to so many citizens of different races and backgrounds.”-Copley News Service
  • “The picture book format and accessible language of ‘Naming Liberty’ make it appealing and suitable for a wide age range of children. It is a first-rate introduction to the history of an American ensign… and represents children’s book publishing at its finest.”—Ashville Citizen-Times.
  • “In this beautiful celebration of freedom two stories are told side by side. . . . A striking celebration of freedom. “—
  • “Yolen is a master storyteller. In “Naming Liberty” she intersperses the story of a Russian family’s dream of coming to America with the dream of a young artist, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, to build a statute honoring freedom. The artwork is done by Jim Burke, whose crisp oil paintings give the book a timeless feel. While both dreams become a reality, neither happens overnight or without overcoming obstacles. Many Americans will see glimpses of their own family’s history in this tale of immigration and struggle.”—Flint Journal
  • “I loved this book, and can’t wait to buy my own copy (I borrowed mine from the library)! It makes me happy to know how many great nonfiction texts there are available now for children. Naming Liberty fits that category — it makes history accessible and significant for children. Therefore, it becomes a must, must have for my classroom!!!”—Literate Lives
  • “In facing single pages, award-winning author Jane Yolen tells two parallel stories: one portrays a Jewish family in the Ukraine in the 1800s and the other pictures a young French sculptor named Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The converging tales add up to an excellent portrait of both the American immigrant experience and the American dream.”—Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud of the Week
  • “These dual stories work well together to give the reader a clear sense of the challenges that immigrants faced in traveling to America and that Bartholdi faced in building Liberty. Also woven into both stories are important economics lessons associated with financial constraints, jobs, and immigration. Burke’s gorgeous oil paintings add another layer of sophistication to this informative and appealing book about seeking prosperity.—Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children
  • “This is a really amazing book. Even more perfect that it makes its debut in an election year and in a time in history where immigration is still a very important issue in many hearts and minds. “This is a book you will enjoy reading with your children that tells the story of America then and now. The two stories in it dovetail seamlessly showing a bigger picture in both detail and scope.”— Biblioreads