Great Books and Movies to Enjoy for the 4th of July Holiday
Updated: Mar 19
In between picnics, fireworks, and being out in the midsummer sunshine, the 4th of July weekend is a great time to relax and enjoy a favorite movie or pick up a new book. Whether you are taking time out in a hammock to read or getting together with family to watch a movie after a barbecue, here are some top picks for celebrating this American holiday...
One of the best patriotic movies ever made, Yankee Doodle Dandy is also the most fun. The life of George M. Cohen gives plenty of scope for a musical. Actually born on the 3rd of July in 1878, he was a singer, dancer, playwright, producer, actor and composer of songs. His music, including such classics as You're a Grand Old Flag, Over There and Give My Regards to Broadway, are still instantly recognizable.
Star James Cagney had danced in a movie only once before. The actor, who usually played gangsters, lights up the screen with his singing and athletic dancing. When he launches into the steps to The Yankee Doodle Boy, it becomes a moment of pure joy.
James Cagney won the Oscar for Best Actor in honor of his performance. Watch for his ad-lib near the end of the movie as he comes down the White House stairs. It gives the movie the perfect mood heading into the final scene.
4th of July Fact:
Yankee Doodle Dandy began filming just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. As the United States entered World War II, the men and women working on the film dedicated their efforts to inspiring and encouraging the troops and the country at war.
Phillis Wheatley, a supporter of the American Revolution and George Washington, was born in West Africa circa 1753. At about the age of seven, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped by slavers and brought to Boston. On a hot summer day in 1761, she was sold into slavery and came to work for the Wheatley family. Living in an unusual household and with a great desire to learn, Phillis began reading and writing in English soon after her arrival. Within the next sixteen months, Phillis was studying the Bible, as well as geography and astronomy. She also immersed herself in British literature and Greek and Latin classics.
A young woman of deep sensitivity and intellect, she published a poem at the age of thirteen, becoming one of the first American poets. At the age of twenty, she also became one of the first women to publish a book in America, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
A strong proponent of freedom, Phillis Wheatley fought slavery with her both her pen and her accomplishments.
4th of July Fact:
Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem for George Washington upon his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. George Washington was so moved by the gesture, he wrote back to her and thanked her sincerely. He also invited her to call on him at his headquarters.
Some sources say the two did meet and talk for thirty minutes, making an extraordinary connection to further understanding, justice and freedom.
1776 and John Adams by David McCullough: The author of the newly-released The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand for also wrote very engagingly about the Revolutionary war era. After reading my first book by David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, I now look forward to each new book he writes. It is always interesting to see which topic this two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize will choose. In 1776, I especially appreciate his care in giving the reader a perspective about the British side of things, a somewhat neglected viewpoint on this side of the pond! His books offer deep insights about personalities and events, leading to a greater understanding of why things happened in history.
Pollyanna: Libraries are always wonderful resources for reading and viewing ideas. I asked the Children's Services Specialist at the South Whatcom Library about books and movies featuring a 4th of July theme. She fondly remembered the Walt Disney movie, Pollyanna. I had never seen the movie before and recently watched it on her recommendation. A highlight of the movie is the charity bazaar with outdoor booths, games, great food and the singing of the patriotic song, America the Beautiful.
Once seen, who could forget the delectable cakes baked for the bazaar? I'm sure the huge slices given out to eat will stay in the imaginations of viewers long after the end of the movie. I know I can still see them!
Johnny Tremain: I don't usually continue reading books when I dislike the protagonist in the opening pages. Yet, author Esther Forbes weaves a classic tale of lost dreams, new purpose and growing maturity amidst the chaotic birth of a new country. It is a book well worth finishing.
4th of July Fact:
In the year Johnny Tremain was published, historian and author Esther Forbes won the Pulitzer Prize for Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, a book written for adults. In his fascinating introduction to Johnny Tremain, Gary D. Schmidt tells how she used the research she did for the earlier book to write a new story for children.
Johnny Tremain went on to win the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1943, a time when the nation was again locked in a fight for freedom.
Happy Independence Day and happy reading (and movie-watching) to you.
To help celebrate the 4th of July, I just picked up David McCullough's new book, The American Spirit. He's always a great choice for feeling as if I'm discovering the inside scoop about history.
I'm the author of Mystery Shores, a novel of secrets taking place along the Washington coast in 1893. History, lighthouses, and mystery are all a part of this island story.