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They Were Strong and Good
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They Were Strong and Good

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  929 Ratings  ·  179 Reviews
Awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1941, They Were Strong and Good is a classic book that follows the path of one family s journey through American history. Robert Lawson introduces us to his forefathers and with them we brave Caribbean storms, travel to the wharf markets of New York, and fight in the Civil War. Amidst these adventures Lawson s grandparents meet, marry, and ra ...more
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published January 1st 1940 by Viking Press
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4.5 STARS As a story about family, I loved it! I'm trying to write an adequate review but for now I will just say that I found Lawson's story touching, fascinating and beautifully told and illustrated. I could really feel the love and respect he had for his ancestors and he conveyed a great deal about their times and attitudes in just a few words and those remarkable illustrations. The little bits of humor sprinkled throughout was such a welcome surprise! And I appreciated how the illustrations ...more
May 20, 2010 J.L. rated it really liked it
I was horrified when I started reading this—the tacit approval of prejudice against Indians, the nonchalant references to slavery, its blasé understanding of the pilgrims and the pioneers—until I realized that it was written in 1940! It won the Caldecott that year. It’s amazing how our tastes develop over the years—I don’t think the illustrations would win the Caldecott in 2010, not because they aren’t good but because they aren’t innovative. And how our understanding of history changes, too. Th ...more
This is a fascinating account of the family history of a man. He admits that some of it might be mixed up or made up after so many years, but for the most part, it is a biography of his immediate family tree. The story is very interesting and the black and white illustrations are wonderful. It was written in 1940, so it's amazing to think that the story is more than 70 years old and yet still is as important as a historical account as it was then.

I will acknowledge that there are things written
Jul 21, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kid-books
They just don't make children's books like this anymore. Sigh.

A bunch of reviewers complained about the stereotypes and racism. This is why this book, by national treasure Robert Lawson, has an average 3.27 rating rather than the 5 it deserves. But we're reading the bowdlerized version....the more offensive language in the 1940 original has been altered. (See the book's Wikipedia entry for some specifics.) I supposed it's your prerogative to find such things offensive (e.g., the author explains
Nov 16, 2013 Abby rated it it was amazing
Ok, so, the 8 year old niece actually really liked this book, which I was kind of surprised by. And while she specified that we should give it a 5 star rating, I feel compelled to mention some rather serious issues I had with the book and consequently that I tried to address with my niece. This book seems to have a very... unselfconsciously glib view towards slavery and Native American history and the art work as it pertains to those two groups is definitely un-PC. All told though, I think what ...more
Colby Sharp
Jan 03, 2012 Colby Sharp rated it it was ok
I read this book to my son. I feel kind of bad for him.

Not our favorite book.
Elaine Mazzo
Jan 09, 2017 Elaine Mazzo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-s-books
Love, love, love Robert Lawson's illustrations and stories. This is one of his best.
1941 Caldecott Medal Winner

The etched drawings in this book were very striking. Slightly cartoonish, but mostly realistic.

Lawson writes about his grandparents and parents from the past to the present. As someone who is interested in family history, I loved the idea of illustrating one's own history and writing it out for future generations. Family history doesn't have to be dry, though, nor does it have to be dumbed down for children. The repetition of "they were strong and good" got pretty old-
Ashley Adams
Sep 24, 2012 Ashley Adams rated it it was ok
1. Children’s Book- Other
2. This book reflects on the lives of Robert Lawson’s ancestors, throughout history, living in America. It shows them braving Carribbean storms, walking through the streets of New York, and fighting in the Civil War.
3. Critique
a. This book was a recipient of the Grand Caldecott award in 1941. The illustrations are clearly the most important element in this book, and they are beautiful and well done.
b. Although I am not a huge fan of the story itself because it is rathe
I just have no words for this. Honestly, I know what time in history it was written but I was thoroughly disappointed that this is an award winning book.
Rebecca Scala
Feb 08, 2014 Rebecca Scala rated it did not like it
I saw this book at the library and, remembering it was on the list I made of books for my four-year-old to read when he's older, flipped through it. I liked the concept of genealogy as a story and the beautiful illustrations (I love Ferdinand so no doubt that is why I put it on my list) so I checked it out. Somehow I didn't land on the page with the mammy figure chasing a Native American with a broom. That was a surprise when I later read the story to my kid as was the myopic, nationalistic pers ...more
Feb 06, 2014 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-to-the-kids
My kids enjoyed this story and I liked the fact that it looked back to ancestors and gave short stories about how they ended up where they did to meet each other. It starts with a section named "My Father's Mother" and moves through to his father then through his maternal grandparents to his mother. Then he talks about his parents' lives and how they came to meet and have him.
Now, I'm sure many people lambast this book because it was written before the time of political correctness. One of his g
Elizabeth S
Jun 24, 2011 Elizabeth S rated it really liked it
Wonderful, solid book. I read this as a continuation of my journey through the Caldecott winners. The pictures, of course, were lovely. I also enjoyed the layout of the book. Perhaps everyone should write their own version of this book about their ancestors who were "strong and good." (Of course some of us have ancestors who were NOT strong and good, but we can still focus on the ancestors who were.) I very much enjoyed the general message that it is good to learn about your ancestors and to tel ...more
Early Caldecott winner.

I quite enjoyed this. It is the story of the author's parents and grandparents. He tells several stories about each of them, all trying to show that they were strong and good. I know that many people will find these stories troublesome as they lived in a time of slavery and racist attitudes. While I do not condone these attitudes...I find them abhorrent, I do believe a book written in the 30's about people who lived even earlier is likely to contain attitudes we would find
Dec 07, 2014 Brooke rated it it was amazing
I'm fascinated by this book! I love the illustrations and how the author uses them to tell a story and not just reflect the text. I love how proud he is of his ancestors and how sweetly that comes through. But, then I couldn't help cringe when the fact that his mother did not like the Indians or his father owned a slave came across as natural or acceptable. He did write the book in the 1940's (things were different then). Anyways, it was an interesting read because there's a "cringe" factor and ...more
Dec 29, 2011 Laura5 rated it did not like it
The one part I did find amusing was where the text says that his Mother's Mother "did not like sailing on the sea" with a corresponding illustration of her backside as she is vomiting over the side of a the boat.

Related material on Debbie Reese's blog:
Cristine Braddy
Jun 07, 2015 Cristine Braddy rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite Caldecotts.
4.5 stars. This made me think about my own family history and what kind of stories my relatives could tell.
Laura Harrison
Dec 28, 2014 Laura Harrison rated it it was amazing
Absolutely wonderful. How I love Robert Lawson (sigh).
Sep 12, 2013 Dorcas rated it liked it
Enjoyable on so many levels!! Loved the part about the slave friend!!
Hahnna Christianson
Feb 02, 2017 Hahnna Christianson rated it liked it

Winner of the Caldecott award in 1941, They Were Strong and Good is a traditional story that illustrates the long family blood line of a classic American family. As the story proceeds, the reader learns about a young man and woman who met and created the start to a tremendous family. The background of the grandparents and then parents, leads to the source of the stories in which are being told, the narrator. Traveling on the Eliza Jane Hopper brig, living on a tiny farm in New Jersey, and p

Jan 02, 2017 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
This would be a great book to use to introduce children to genealogy and start the discussion of where they come from and who their people are
Mar 16, 2017 Sara rated it it was amazing
I remember reading this as a kid and enjoying it very much!
Mar 16, 2017 Patsy rated it it was amazing
I have always loved the simplicity and honesty of this book. I would love to put together something like this for my own family some day.
R. G. Nairam
Nice illustrations, but just kind of...odd?
Kristine Hansen
Feb 03, 2013 Kristine Hansen rated it it was amazing
I'm going out on a limb and giving this the 5-star rating even though I know the book is controversial and a lot of people would disagree.

I've reached a point where I'm honestly tired of the political correctness attitude of denying the past - and in painting things very black and white. Books are deemed 'offensive' or 'not offensive' in the broadest of strokes which doesn't work. There are always shades of grey. This book fits into that category.

First - the time this book came out. Published in
Sep 10, 2016 Tirzah rated it liked it
Shelves: picture-books
The title caught my eye while I was shelving this book, so I decided to check it out and read it. The illustrations are fine and while the author already told us some of it may be exaggeration, I like how he shared his family’s history and how he stressed their good, hard work that contributed to making America great. Good, hardworking people – an ideal that is becoming less popular and supported in today’s America, sadly. It is because of this ideal that I like They Were Strong and Good. It is ...more
For me, this one would rate between a 3 and a 4. It's interesting to reflect on how the 1941 Caldecott Medal Winner represents both the author/illustrator's own family story and that of many of those of us who now live in the United States, making it a very personal story and yet, one that can be generalized as well. After all, his mother's father was a Scotch sea captain, and her mother was Dutch while his paternal grandfather was English. None of his ancestors were famous or did great deeds, b ...more
Feb 18, 2009 Arthur rated it really liked it
Caldecott medal winner in 1941. The title refers to the author's parents and grandparents, and through them to the generations that made the US what it was at the brink of WWII. (Why 'strong and good', I wonder, rather than 'good and strong', which IMO has a better ring.) Nationalistic? Sure, but not enough to make one puke.
Lawson tells six episodes from the lives of his parents and grandparents––one for each. Actually there are only five because Lawson has nothing to tell about his father's mo
Dec 27, 2016 Christy rated it it was amazing
Relates the story of the author's grandparents and parents, who, though not famous, helped build the United States.
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Born in New York City, Lawson spent his early life in Montclair, New Jersey. Following high school, he studied art for three years under illustrator Howard Giles (an advocate of dynamic symmetry as conceived by Jay Hambidge) at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (now Parsons School of Design), marrying fellow artist and illustrator Marie Abrams in 1922. His career as an illustrator began ...more
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