Books, History, Uncategorized

PPBF: Thomas Jefferson – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

TITLE: Thomas Jefferson – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything


PUBLICATION INFO: Penguin’s Nancy Paulsen Books, Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-24040-9

SOURCE:  library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 to 8 (publisher), but I think 7 and up is a better estimate

GENRE: picture book biography


“Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third president of the United States.

From the publisher:

“Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president.

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves.

As she did in Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman shares a president’s remarkable, complicated life with young readers, making history come alive with her captivating text and stunning illustrations.”


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Many picture book biographies of Jefferson focus on Jefferson’s roles as writer of the Declaration of Independence or President of the United States. Kalman’s book is the first I’ve seen that addresses Jefferson as a complex character, a man who condemned slavery while owning 150 slaves, and a man who might have had children with his slave, Sally Hemings. This is heavy stuff for young children, and I think much of the subject would be difficult for children younger than 7 to understand. Kalman’s conversational tone and bright artwork lighten some of the weightier topics. And I do appreciate that she is forthright with young readers, showing them that nobody’s perfect, not even Thomas Jefferson.


You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

25 thoughts on “PPBF: Thomas Jefferson – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything”

  1. This book looks like a gem. I’m glad it focuses more on the man. Even George Washington was against slavery, but owned slaves. I love visiting Monticello and looking at the things he had in his home that would have been seen as modern day conveniences at that time. Great story for kids, because I think it is important that they realize even the greatest of men/women have their flaws.

    1. I agree, Patricia. And I think by the time kids are seven, they are ready to really start digging into these complex issues. We were having a really good Civil War discussion this morning during carpool, and I think my first grader was starting to understand the complex issues underlying the “war between the states.”

  2. I just wish more world leaders had this sort of hunger for knowledge and the arts! Sounds like a biography that kids will lap up.

  3. The most grabbing cover in the NF section, eh? I love Maira’s work, but Jefferson is such an interesting character too. Juat watched the PBS series John Adams again too, and wonder what he really was like.

  4. I listen to The Thomas Jefferson Hour every week. He is complicated. I look forward to seeing how he is handle. (I’m listening to you webinar as I’m going through the PPBF list. THANK YOU!)

  5. It does sound like some “heavy” stuff for little kids to ponder. I’ve been to Monticello. Maybe I’ll get the chance to read this someday.

  6. I have to get this book. I love history. I think kids should read more of it and make their own opinions of what kind of person Jefferson was. Jefferson (and Washington) wrote and spoke against slavery but also owned slaves, but it is so much more complicated than that! Kids need to read more history!

  7. I love history in Picture books. I recently did a PPBF on “Tom and John the Rebels”. It contrasted their childhoods with their adult lives and was a real good read of a pb. This sounds the same. 🙂

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