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CHILDREN’s

My Country, ’Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights by Claire Rudolf Murphy, illustrated by Bryan Collier; Henry Holt ($17.99).

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This interesting picture book, with dramatic paintings by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, tells the history of the United States and various groups’ struggle for equal rights and their share of its promised freedoms through new verses written for the song, which first appeared in England in the 1740s as “God Save the King.” The author notes an early variation sung by followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie (“That Scotland we may see/Freed from vile Presbyt’ry”). The song’s popularity spread across the Atlantic, sung by British colonial soldiers celebrating victories in the French and Indian war and by British soldiers and loyalists during the Revolutionary War and answered by colonists with their own verses (“God save our Thirteen States.”) Abolitionists wrote their own verses, as did both sides in the Civil War, labor activists, feminists, Native Americans (Sioux writer Zitkala-Sa: “Land where OUR fathers died, Whose offspring are denied, the Franchise given wide”). The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted the song in his famous “I have a dream” speech. Collier’s stunning watercolor-and-collage paintings add the human faces to the story.

– Jean Westmoore

Thriller

Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman; Ballantine, 368 pages ($26)

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In her second novel, Jenny Milchman delivers an intense family thriller that touches on all the hot-button fears of a parent while keeping the threat of violence on the periphery of the story. Although “Ruin Falls” lags a bit in the middle, Milchman’s strength in creating characters who grow and change keep the story on track. Liz Daniels, her husband, Paul, and their children Ally, 6, and Reid, 8, are taking a road trip to visit Paul’s estranged parents in rural upstate New York. It is the children’s first trip ever and the first time the couple has been away from their small farm since their kids were born. At home, Paul, a professor at a small agricultural college, insists the family live as much off the grid as possible, rigidly following an organic way of farming, forbidding the children to have most snacks, and staying close to the house. Liz isn’t prepared for this trip. She sees danger and conspiracies at every turn – she’s sure that a truck following too closely or a mentally challenged bellman mean harm to her family.

Uncharacteristically, Paul suggests the family spend the night in a hotel and spring for a suite with the children using one room. The next morning, the children have vanished. While the police search the hotel and grounds, Paul also disappears.

Convinced that this is a family matter and no laws have been broken, the police stop the investigation. But Liz refuses to give up. She searches for every clue, no matter how small, that will tell her where Paul went and why he took the children.

Milchman imbues “Ruin Falls” with a complex, yet believable plot that is as much a journey of Liz’s maturation as it is a hunt for these missing children. Liz must go from being “a woman who’d turned to other people all her life for sustenance and direction” to finding her inner resolve and strength, for herself and for her children.

“Ruin Falls” also carefully examines a marriage in which neither person really knows or trusts the other.

Milchman, who won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for “Cover of Snow,” extends her storytelling skills in “Ruin Falls.”

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel