Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall

Happy Birthday, America!

A fam­i­ly reunion, a parade, a Jell‑O mold in the shape of the Unit­ed States, fireworks—it must be the Fourth of July! From pic­nic prepa­ra­tions to the final star­burst float­ing down through a mid­night blue sky, Mar­sha Wil­son Chall and Guy Por­firio serve up a hap­py, home­town Inde­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tion with all the trim­mings. So grab a sparkler and come join the fun!


  • Lis­ten to patri­ot­ic music selec­tions at this website.
  • Draw fire­works with chalk on black paper.
  • Good ideas for Fourth of July crafts: click here.
  • Have a Fourth of July parade and do some marching!
  • Write about your fam­i­ly activ­i­ties last Fourth of July or what you would like to do on that day.
  • Make red, white and blue jello.
  • Have a seed spit­ting contest—sunflower seeds will need to be sub­sti­tut­ed at this time of year but it will make the con­test more challenging!
  • Have a red, white and blue cloth­ing day.
  • Compare/contrast with Hap­py Birth­day Amer­i­ca by Mary Pope Osborne.

Thanks to Kathy John­son, media spe­cial­ist in Alexan­dria, Min­neso­ta, for these suggestions.


Rel­a­tives arrive in dizzy­ing bunch­es for a small-town fam­i­ly’s glo­ri­ous Fourth of July. Seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old nar­ra­tor, the tra­di­tions are both fresh and famil­iar: reunion hugs and kiss­es; casseroles and red-white-and-blue jel­lo on bowls on long tables set up on spa­cious lawns; chil­dren march­ing with the floats and fire trucks down Main Street; a post-pic­nic plunge off the dock; fire­works over the lake after sun­set, fol­lowed by wav­ing sparklers from the shore. In broad­ly focused, slight­ly hazy paint­ings, Por­firio parades gag­gles of laugh­ing aunts, uncles, and cousins over wide, well-kept, very green land­scapes. Even more than Bar­bara M. Joosse’s Fourth of July (1985), illus­trat­ed by Emi­ly Arnold McCul­ly, or Wendy Wat­son’s Hur­ray for the Fourth of July (1992), this ide­al­ized cel­e­bra­tion cap­tures the joy and solem­ni­ty of the hol­i­day. A final hap­py birth­day wish shout­ed across the dark lake brings voic­es from the far shore: “I hear them all around me, wish­es to us, wish­es to them, wish­es to every­one.”(Book­list)

Chall (Up North at the Cab­in) and Por­firio (The Rag­gly Scrag­gly No-Soap No-Scrub Girl) offer an affec­tion­ate paean to the Fourth of July in this sto­ry of one extend­ed fam­i­ly’s hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tion. The nar­ra­tor, an ami­able girl who is “almost nine,” relays snatch­es of con­ver­sa­tion and her own impres­sions as car­loads of rel­a­tives pull up to her fam­i­ly’s wel­com­ing clap­board house. (“They squeeze me and pat me and lip­stick smack me” she says of some old­er folks’ warm greet­ings.) The clan’s high spir­its res­onate in the inten­tion­al­ly grainy, sun-dap­pled water­col­or and col­ored-pen­cil art, which presents engag­ing depic­tions of town-wide fes­tiv­i­ties (a time­less parade in which the nar­ra­tor rides in a “wheel­bar­row float”), as well as of the fam­i­ly’s own tra­di­tions (a pic­nic, a swim in the lake and a sun­set boat trip to view fire­works). Chal­l’s breezy and spon­ta­neous sto­ry­telling sets a tone of famil­iar­i­ty and com­fort. “An army of aunts swarms out of the kitchen, car­ry­ing sweet-pick­le jars and casseroles,” observes the nar­ra­tor, who then cuts into a mold­ed dessert shaped like the Unit­ed States and announces, “I plop Flori­da down right next to my lasagna.” Ample good cheer, mixed with splash­es of patri­o­tism and nos­tal­gia, make this a fam­i­ly out­ing to which near­ly every­one will feel invit­ed.  (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

Happy Birthday, America!
illus­tra­tion © Guy Por­firio, from Hap­py Birth­day, Amer­i­ca!, writ­ten by Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, Harper­Collins, 2000
Happy Birthday, America!

illus­tra­tor, Guy Por­firio
Harper­Collins, 2000
ISBN 978–0‑68813–0510
ages 4 and up
32 pages

Look for this book at your favorite library or used bookseller.