May 29, 2002 02:42 PM

Talk about your all-star vehicle: Julia Roberts, Katie Couric, Angela Bassett, Reese Witherspoon and President Bush are due to participate in an upcoming, 16-part PBS series, “Freedom: A History of Us,” reports Variety. The fun kicks off this January, when the series is due to air. Based upon a controversial 11-volume textbook series for youngsters written by lay historian Joy Hakim and published by Oxford University Press in the mid-’90s, the work reportedly sold more than 800,000 copies, but was heavily criticized by conservatives for the author’s argumentative take on Ronald Reagan. Still, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, on the book jacket, called the series, “A big breath of fresh air and the best possible news for the youngsters who get to read these books.” Parents’ Choice, a non-profit guide to children’s books, videos and software, said in its newsletter, “Hakim adds to American history studies by including material that illustrates daily life, social attitudes, contemporary concerns and dilemmas, political climate and trivia.” A single-volume version is due to be published in October, according to Amazon.com. Other stars announced to participate in the TV series include Anthony Hopkins, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, who will read from personal historical accounts, while the President and Laura Bush will introduce the series the night of its premiere.

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