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They Were Strong and Good
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They Were Strong and Good

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  637 ratings  ·  128 reviews
Relates the story of the author's grandparents and parents, who, though not famous, helped build the United States.
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published January 1st 1940 by Viking Press
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Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice SendakMake Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskeyThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack KeatsThe Polar Express by Chris Van AllsburgThe Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
Caldecott Medal Winners
76th out of 78 books — 300 voters
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry PinkneyMadeline by Ludwig BemelmansWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice SendakFlotsam by David WiesnerMake Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
List for #nerdcott
157th out of 335 books — 34 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 985)
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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
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
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
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
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
Ashley Adams
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
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-
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
Colby Sharp
I read this book to my son. I feel kind of bad for him.

Not our favorite book.
Elizabeth S
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
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
Laura Harrison
Absolutely wonderful. How I love Robert Lawson (sigh).
Rebecca Scala
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
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
Jeff Fortney
They Were Strong And Brave, by Robert Lawson, won the Caldecott Medal back in 1941 shortly after the award began being presented. The vivid, detailed artwork suggests a time 70 years ago. There is nothing fancy, bold, colorful or new...just amazing drawing of Lawson's forefathers (and foremothers) and the lives that they led, which led to America, and ultimate to Robert Lawson himself.
His grandparents are discussed first . The chapters start with a portrait of the person being discussed. Then, b
David Korsak
This book is about the author's family and how they came to America. The book includes both of Lawson's grandparents and everything about their life story. This book goes on to explain what his family went through to get to America. For example, the book describes his family working hard, fighting wars, and keeping the family together after all this adversity. He also states that nobody in his family was famous and the reason they got to come to America was hard work and determination. They were ...more
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:
Taylor Kandris
They Were Strong and Good was written and illustrated by Robert Lawson. This book won the Caldecott Award in 1941. This book is a true story about the author’s grandparents and parents. The author describes his mother’s family, who his mother was, his father’s family, who his father was, then how his mother and father eventually met and married. This is a book I would use to discuss American history and to discuss how different people made a life for themselves and their families in the past. Th ...more
Enjoyable on so many levels!! Loved the part about the slave friend!!
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
Cindy Benabderrahman
Apr 20, 2009 Cindy Benabderrahman rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: children interested in family histories
This is the story of Robert Lawson's family: his mother and father, and his grandparents, as he remembers hearing it as a small boy. This is the story of his mother's father, who was a Scotch sea captain, and a parrot who ate most of a panama hat. This is the story of his mother's mother, a little Dutch girl from New Jersey, and how she met his mother's father on a trip into New York City, and how they married and moved to Minnesota. This is the story of his mother, who remembered hungry Indians ...more
Kaia Jo
This book gave a simple and straightforward history of some of the early settlers in the United States. The best part of the book was how it did give the reader some insight into what it would be like to be a settler. The writing was easy and would accessable to most any reader.

It is kind of neat how the book is doubly a piece of history now because it tells the history from when the United States was first settled and it is now also historical being that it was written in the 1940s and looking
Christina Fonner
This is a great book for children to engage interest in their anscetors. This story talks about a specific child's parents mother and father but gives great detail and pictures sowing what and how the United States used to be and look like. One interesting fact from the book is the color which was in black and white photos, which I believe fit really well with the story line. One of my favorite pictures was the City of Paterson of what it looked like a long time ago and today ...more
Lea Lea
This book will not be found in your everyday public school classroom. Indians are not portrayed as only innocent, peace-loving people, the southerners are shown to be caring good and strong people, the families have national pride and are pioneers in the country's exploration.

The title says it all. They were good and strong people who worked hard, had lots of babies, and took pride in doing what was right. If people have a problem with that it is more of a reflection of their politically correc
Florence Turnour
I would not recommend this book and I would not read it to my children. The relationship between the white people an the African Americans and the Native Americans is complicated and disturbing. The writing in this story oversimplifies the complicated nature of these relationships and makes light of the troubling history of our country. The idea, however, of talking about how the narrator's mother's mother met her mother's father and so on, is charming. It would be nice to read a story written i ...more
I don't really know how I felt about this book. I really LOVED the concept, but I guess I'm spoiled with the way my religion encourages people to write self and family histories. I just wasn't impressed by Lawson's stories. I felt they were extremely generic and I was bored. This story definitely wouldn't have held my daughter's interest AT ALL.
As for the illustrations, they were nice but not awe-inspiring. I also kind of thought that the eyes on almost all of the people were creepy. They did fi
Political correctness didn't matter in 1941 when this book won the Caldecott Medal. I love the dark, bold lines. When I read this, I immediately thought how wonderful it would be if my mother used it as a model for telling our family story (she is a writer). This could be an excellent springboard for student family research/writing projects in upper elementary.
Heather Vernon
The way the pages are set up doesn't always make sense. Sometimes only the first word of the sentence was on one page and the rest was on the next. Otherwise, it was a good book. It was written in the '40s so it isn't always "politically correct" like everything has to be today. Keep that in mind when you go to read it.
Petrie Serrano
The illustrations were good, not very exciting by modern standards but with the nearly flawless quasi-cartoony technique you see in The Story of Ferdinand, and it provides a Plot/Project Bunny for creating your own family history book by tying together anecdotes.

The book itself doesn't survive the test of time as well as other winners except as a relic of how things used to be. I'm sure when he talked about tame Indians and wrote, "He was a slave, but they didn’t call him that," he was trying n
I greatly enjoyed this book. Similarly we all have a great heritage to be proud of. This story inspires a pride in young readers and stirs a curiosity in finding ones own great historical story. The art in this book is simple but holds a great deal of charm.
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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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