AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Maira Kalman
PUBLICATION INFO: Penguin’s Nancy Paulsen Books, Jan. 7, 2014
INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 to 8 (publisher), but I think 7 and up is a better estimate
GENRE: picture book biography
OPENING and SYNOPSIS:
“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.”
THEMES/TOPICS: U.S. history
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.
- Learn more about Thomas Jefferson and his pursuit of absolutely everything at Monticello, which has so many resources for teachers and students. This lesson plan in particular focuses on slavery.
- PBS has a wonderful lesson plan on slavery and the making of America.
- Learn more about Jefferson’s many facets at the U.S. Department of Education’s teaching history grant page.
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!