Let Lib­er­ty Rise!: How America’s School­child­ren Helped Save the Stat­ue of Liberty

Chana Stiefel, Chuck Groenink (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – July 1, 2021

The Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty is one of the most hal­lowed sym­bols of America’s aspi­ra­tions to free­dom and equal­i­ty. It is also one of the most eas­i­ly rec­og­nized, but many young read­ers know lit­tle about how this mas­sive sym­bol of our coun­try came to live in New York Har­bor. Chana Stiefel and Chuck Groenik’s Let Lib­er­ty Rise! intro­duces chil­dren to the Statue’s sur­pris­ing sto­ry. This is not a sto­ry about artis­tic cre­ativ­i­ty; sculp­tor Frédéric Auguste Barthol­di does not play a role in the book. Instead, Stiefel focus­es on the deter­mi­na­tion of news­pa­per pub­lish­er Joseph Pulitzer to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal and the enthu­si­as­tic gen­eros­i­ty of the Amer­i­can peo­ple that enabled him to achieve this goal. The wealthy and influ­en­tial Pulitzer depend­ed on ordi­nary Amer­i­cans’ small dona­tions, which were ulti­mate­ly as impor­tant as the largesse of the rich in the project’s realization.

Friend­ship between France and the Unit­ed States was the ini­tial moti­va­tion for Lady Lib­er­ty. Groenik’s pic­tures of her gigan­tic com­po­nents, each con­struct­ed sep­a­rate­ly, con­veys that this endeav­or was huge in every sense of the word. A pow­er­ful, robed arm and the unmis­tak­able pro­file will intrigue read­ers who may have believed that the mon­u­ment emerged in one piece and took her place in the har­bor ful­ly-formed. While they may also have assumed that the Stat­ue always evoked the rev­er­ence that she does today, the book makes it clear that this was not the case. Wealthy Amer­i­cans are pre­sent­ed as some­what snide and igno­rant as well as stingy. See­ing the crates packed with parts of the Stat­ue stored on Bedloe’s Island, a haughty woman hold­ing a para­sol sug­gests, Send her home to Paris!” and her male com­pan­ion agrees with a word of dis­gust: Ugh!”

Stiefel intro­duces Pulitzer as a Jew­ish Hun­gar­i­an immi­grant,” who rose from pover­ty through hard work and per­sis­tence. Seat­ed at his desk in an ele­gant suit and pince-nez eye­glass­es bal­anced on his nose, he seems unap­proach­able and aris­to­crat­ic, yet he writes a fer­vent request for dona­tions based on the cru­cial role of the work­ing class­es: Let us not wait for the mil­lion­aires to give mon­ey.” The next illus­tra­tion shows labor­ers hard at work at their print­ing press and news­boys hawk­ing Pulitzer’s papers with his strong­ly word­ed edi­to­r­i­al. Soon Amer­i­cans of dif­fer­ent races, ages, and eco­nom­ic sta­tus are col­lect­ing what­ev­er funds they can to make Pulitzer’s dream a reality.

Each dona­tion is per­son­al. A girl knits Lib­er­ty socks” and sells them for five cents and a young boy employed in an office con­tributes some of his mea­ger wages. The illus­tra­tions pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty to explain his­tor­i­cal change through details: a wood burn­ing stove, foun­tain pen and inkwell, and box­es of files that are paper, not dig­i­tal. Ener­getic fundrais­ing brings spe­cif­ic results, as when Twelve pub­lic schools in Tren­ton, New Jer­sey, col­lect­ed $105.07.” Care­ful­ly drawn arti­cles from the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and a mut­ed col­or palette evoke a tan­gi­ble sense of the past. The Stat­ue is final­ly assem­bled and installed amidst cheer­ing crowds and dis­plays of fire­works, but Stiefel and Groenink con­clude with the most famil­iar aspect of Lady Lib­er­ty, as the woman who wel­comed gen­er­a­tions of immi­grants to a new home. Let Lib­er­ty Rise! sup­plies the con­text for a leg­endary sym­bol, in a sto­ry about America’s strongest val­ues of com­mu­ni­ty and optimism.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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