I’m thrilled to share that my next picture book, “Let Liberty Rise: How Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty,” illustrated by Chuck Groenink, launched from Scholastic on March 2. Having published nearly 30 books for children, I’m often asked where I get my book ideas. This story idea for “Let Liberty Rise” came from a Shabbat dinner.
In 2014, I invited two author friends and former Scholastic magazine colleagues, Sue Macy and Jackie Glasthal, to Friday night dinner. (Remember those days?) Jackie mentioned that she had published a middle-grade novel called “Liberty on 23rd Street,” and the backstory of that book blew me away.
Many people know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to America for our country’s 100th birthday. But what many people don’t know is that when Liberty arrived in 350 pieces, America didn’t want her. No one wanted to pay $100,000 to build the pedestal. And without funds for a pedestal, Lady Liberty would remain trapped in her crates, scattered about Bedloe’s Island (today known as Liberty Island).
Joseph Pulitzer, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant and owner of the New York World newspaper, felt that Liberty had to stand in New York harbor, the gateway to America. He said that if anyone gave a penny for the pedestal, he would print their name in his newspaper. So schoolchildren opened their piggy banks and eagerly sent in their pennies. America’s first crowdsourcing campaign raised $100,000 to build the pedestal!
When I heard this little-known slice of American history, I knew it had to become a picture book. I felt an emotional connection to the themes of liberty, charity, friendship, cooperation and immigration. Three of my four grandparents and both of my in-laws were immigrants. My grandfathers’ first view of America was the Statue of Liberty. We have a newspaper from 1943 showing my mother-in-law, Hannelore Stiefel, as a young girl who escaped Nazi Germany, standing with her classmates in front of the Statue of Liberty. “Let Liberty Rise” demonstrates for children what we can accomplish when everyone works together, and that every contribution, no matter how small, can have a lasting impact.
The research for the book took several years, and I’m overjoyed that it found a home at Scholastic. Sadly, my friend Jackie passed away four years ago, and the book is dedicated to her memory. As the French would say, she stood for “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, and fraternity). I’m forever grateful to her for the gift of this story.
Please join me and illustrator Chuck Groenink at the virtual launch party for “Let Liberty Rise,” hosted by The Curious Reader Bookshop on Facebook Live, Sunday, March 7 at 3 p.m. Open to all! Signup and book orders are available through this link. https://www.facebook.com/events/2801930596716255.
Chana Stiefel, a Teaneck resident, is the author of more than 25 books for children. Visit her at www.chanastiefel.com.