Reviewed by Julianne McCullagh

Since ancient times, shamans and poets gathered with their people and told tales. Under the canopy of stars, great stories of heroes and heroines who were cast into the sky as constellations filled their imaginations.  Generation after generation learned of the gods and goddesses who created the world and their ancestors. Heroic journeys, victories and failures, and the enduring lessons learned from the heroes of the past, were handed on in songs, legends, and poetry.   Philosophers and theologians built on the stories through the ages and articulated the principles and precepts, the laws and customs, that defined the character of their community and their nations. It was around countless campfires, town wells, and meeting halls that stories were shared and discussed to learn the great lessons of the ancestors and provide guidance for their current life. That is how a people, a tribe, a nation came to know who they were, through their myths and legends and had a shared history to call on in times of challenge. It is how humans have always discovered and created a sense of themselves, a sense of mission and purpose.

Since America is a different kind of nation, an intentional nation, formed by people who have chosen, in most cases, or been forced in other cases, to be something new in the history of the world. Stories have developed since settlers arrived on the shores, sometimes integrating the legends of the people already here, becoming, over time, a new people, forging bonds and alliances, often strained and difficult, over the past 400 years.

Mr. McNeilly wrote this book of verse with his children in mind. He wants them to understand not only the history of America, but the idea of America. He states in the Preface:  My goal is to pass on to them an unflinching love and passion for the ideal of the American spirit. I intend to convey that love of country is important, and adherence to our founding principles even more so. At the same time, challenging orthodoxy is an essential American quality. Red, White & Verse celebrates the people, places, and events that America shares. It seeks to recapture the heroic as our myth with a nod to our imperfection.

Mr. McNeilly has done something good with this book. He presents in verse iconic characters and events to tell the tale of America.  America is an idea generated through a new philosophy in world history, revolutionary in its time, that each human is endowed with inalienable rights, articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  He presents a sampling of myths and legends, from Pocahontas to Benjamin Franklin, Sacagawea to Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain to Martin Luther King, that present in story form the success, at times, and the failure at other times, of attempts to realize the idea of America.

This book is an introduction for children and their parents or teachers, to plant the seeds of further study into the rich complex history of America.