A Land of Big Dream­ers: Voic­es of Courage in America

Neil Wald­man
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
With this hand­some, over­sized, mag­nif­i­cent­ly illus­trat­ed and designed book, Neil Wald­man intro­duces chil­dren to 13 Amer­i­cans whose noble dreams, brave words, and coura­geous acts in dif­fi­cult times had a pro­found effect upon the his­to­ry and cur­rent state of our nation. Includ­ed are: pres­i­dents Thomas Jef­fer­son, Abra­ham Lin­coln, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Oba­ma. Impor­tant to civ­il rights are: Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Mar­tin Luther King. Sit­ting Bull and Cesar Chavez are here for obtain­ing rights for their respec­tive groups — Native Amer­i­cans and migrant farm work­ers. Both Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton who fought for the abo­li­tion of slav­ery, and Susan B. Antho­ny, for vot­ing rights for women are includ­ed, as well as Emma Lazarus, who led a bat­tle cry for immi­grants with her poem The New Colos­sus,” which adorns the base of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty. To alert us to the fragili­ty of nature and our plan­et, Rachel Car­son appears as our nation’s first envi­ron­men­tal­ist. Mar­velous water­col­ors of these heroes and hero­ines, backed by images of the deeds they accom­plished, fill the pages of this hand­some­ly designed 8” x 10” book. The rich dark col­ors of maroon, pump­kin, roy­al and cerulean blues, cel­ery green, and mus­tard offer pleas­ing con­trast to text and the adja­cent del­i­cate water col­ors. Indi­vid­ual biogra­phies of each Dream­er” fill the squares of two gor­geous pages, designed as beau­ti­ful­ly as the rest of the book, and even the Source Notes are on a beau­ti­ful­ly designed page, so in addi­tion to being help­ful, they, too add to the hand­some­ness of this vol­ume. No Jew­ish con­tent. For ages 6 – 10.


Mar­cia Pos­ner: Neil, I love your books so much that I hes­i­tate to part with them after review­ing them. By now I have quite a col­lec­tion. Tell us how you became an illus­tra­tor. What is the back sto­ry?
Neil Wald­man: I was raised in the blue-col­lar back­streets of the Bronx. My father and grand­fa­ther were fac­to­ry work­ers. Our neigh­bors were plumbers, police­men, and jan­i­tors. But I always loved to draw and my moth­er encour­aged me. In such a world, how­ev­er, I had no idea that a col­lege edu­ca­tion might offer the chance to earn a liv­ing doing what I loved most, draw­ing and paint­ing. Still, after high school, I did go on to col­lege. And it worked! I have been for­tu­nate to be able to illus­trate many, many books, as you know, and sup­port my fam­i­ly while doing so. After illus­trat­ing more than 50 books, dream images began bub­bling up inside me. I imag­ined myself return­ing to the neigh­bor­hoods of my youth, find­ing young artists there, and help­ing to pro­vide them with an escape route from the ghet­to.

And so, with the help of the Children’s Aid Soci­ety, I cre­at­ed The Fred Dolan Art Acad­e­my. It is a free high school pro­gram that teach­es the fun­da­men­tals of draw­ing and paint­ing, builds stu­dent port­fo­lios, and aids the stu­dents in the col­lege entry process. We have been in exis­tence for five years now. To date, 14 stu­dents have grad­u­at­ed from the acad­e­my — all 14 going on to col­lege. Our grad­u­ates have been accept­ed at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Chica­go Art Insti­tute, N.Y.U., F.I.T., and a host of oth­ers.

MP: You are a Big Dream­er” your­self. Does the book under review con­nect in some way with your wish­es and dreams for the chil­dren in the Fred Dolan Art Acad­e­my?
NW: Absolute­ly. The Land of Big Dream­ers details the remark­able pos­si­bil­i­ties that have filled the his­to­ry of this great nation. It is a book about courage, and the ful­fill­ment of dreams that have always been pos­si­ble here. It is ded­i­cat­ed to the teach­ers of the Fred Dolan Art Acad­e­my, peo­ple who exem­pli­fy that ide­al by help­ing under­priv­i­leged artists to trans­form their lives, and real­ize their own Amer­i­can dreams.

MP: That’s beau­ti­ful.
NW: It is real­ly won­der­ful, but we now find our­selves in seri­ous trou­ble. In the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cli­mate, our funds have been cut by 40%. I’ve been told that in order to retain the pro­gram, I will have to begin turn­ing stu­dents away, reduce the num­ber of class­es, and pur­chase infe­ri­or art sup­plies. In order to keep our school afloat, we have to raise at least $15,000 by the com­ing school year.

MP: Per­haps our JBW read­ers can help you fund the Acad­e­my; after all, it trains the future illus­tra­tors of children’s books.
NW: That would be won­der­ful! Let’s try: I am ask­ing for your help. $150 will pro­vide art sup­plies for one stu­dent for a year. $600 will pro­vide art sup­plies for that same stu­dent over the four years of high school. Tax deductible dona­tions should be made out to the Fred Dolan Art Acad­e­my, and mailed to The Children’s Aid Soci­ety, 105 East 22nd Street, New York, NY 10010.

Please, give what you can. Any amount will help. With­out your help, we will have to close our doors.
Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions