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Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything Hardcover – January 7, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—The inimitable Kalman brings her wit, wisdom, and beautifully unique artwork to one of America's most complex founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson. A thinker, a gardener, a writer, a statesman, and so much more, Jefferson cultivated many interests and pursuits. His ability and need to balance the cerebral with the physical is evident in how he lived, the advice he gave, and the friends he made. Kalman does not shy away from Jefferson's ownership of slaves and relationship with Sally Hemings, which are handled directly and effectively. Bits of historical context are included, but the focus here is on the man and his "pursuit of everything." The text alternates between facts, which appear in a more traditional font, and asides to the reader and Kalman's own thoughts, which are highlighted in large, hand-lettered print. Kalman's distinctive, bold-stroked gouache paintings keep the tone light and fresh, providing plenty of details that garner a closer look. Share this along with the author's picture-book biography of Abraham Lincoln, Looking at Lincoln (Penguin, 2012) to inspire young historians and artists alike. —Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
*Starred Review* Thomas Jefferson was complex as this picture-book biography vigorously demonstrates. Famous for life, liberty, and the pursuit of “everything,” he sometimes fell short of the ideal. If Kalman expressed adulation for Lincoln in Looking at Lincoln (2012), in this examination, although admiring of her subject and his accomplishments, she’s more clear-sighted. Vibrant gouache paintings—some full-spread, some more intimate images—capture Jefferson’s family and colleagues, his interests and pursuits, his lavish home, and its inferior slave quarters. The voice is that of a curious child reporting fascinating research findings. The rangy tone, however, allows Kalman to supply a wealth of information—though not everything is well explained. Jefferson had an “ingenious copying machine”? Just a sentence or two highlighting each point is often followed by unrestrained commentary: upon sharing a list of his slaves, the text laments, “Our hearts are broken”; after revealing that Jefferson did not include his presidency in his epitaph, a musing: “I wonder why.” Even the typography, which alternates between staid print and handwritten flourishes, conveys enthusiasm. Playful but informative, as quick witted as Jefferson himself, this will—along with the author’s note—will inspire young readers to learn more. Grades 1-3. --Jeanne McDermott
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Top Customer Reviews
Marira Kalman teaches young readers about Jefferson's true definition of life, liberty, and the pursuit of everything. The author includes dates of historical events, the love Jefferson had for music and flowers, and how much he enjoyed to read. In addition, the reader learns about Jefferson's collections, his vegetable garden, and what he taught his daughter.
The author also sheds light on John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington as Maira Kalman points out that they all shared one thing in common, as she discusses how much they all believed in freedom. This book is educational, interesting, and inspiring. The colorful illustrations compliment the story, as the reader learns fascinating historical events. Highly recommended for young readers, teachers, and parents!
Her words don't rhyme but they ARE poetic.
I must agree unfortunately, however, with another reviewer who politely stated that she would remove some pages. I would start with the page that states "the monumental man had monumental flaws" because even though Jefferson spoke out against slavery, he owned slaves and supposedly "had children with" one of them.
Perhaps before we make a negative judgement about an obviously good person who spent his life trying to help us, we should take a cue from our children and ask one of their favorite questions, "Why?” How could a man who spoke so strongly and persistently against slavery still own slaves?
Aren't there pieces missing in this puzzle?
Jefferson was one of the earliest, most outspoken and most active champions for the abolishment of slavery... in a time and place where it was not popular to do so.
Ironically, had Jefferson been in the kind of position he despised -- that of a monarch or a dictator -- slavery could have ended decades earlier, and without our tragic Civil War. Instead, he worked within the law to try and change these laws.
Before we judge him so harshly, perhaps we should look more closely into his world.
Did you know, for example, that during much of Jefferson's life, it was illegal to simply free slaves without the approval of the Governor and his Counsel, and without some declaration of a good deed? How did Jefferson respond to these many restrictive laws? He took action, and tried to change the laws by writing many long bills.
He included a scathing denunciation against the slave trade in his draft for the Declaration of Independence. But because this section was not approved by all of the colonies as required, it had to be removed before the Declaration could be signed.
When a young man in the House of Burgesses, Jefferson promoted bills to allow slaveholders to free their slaves.
He also proposed a bill that would end the slave trade, and finally during his presidency it was successful.
He also drafted a bill that proposed that all children born into slavery after the year 1800 be born free, and that they be educated at the public's expense until they were young adults. This is just a small sampling of his efforts.
And what would have happened to his slaves had they been freed without knowledge of life outside a plantation, or without a skill with which to support themselves? The laws against freed slaves were very harsh. Did you know that the law required a freed slave to leave his "country" of Virginia shortly after gaining his freedom, and that if he was accused of a crime or could not pay his debts, he could be enslaved again? Life for many freed slaves at that time could be an unpredictable and terrible fate.
How could all of this translate into a children's book? Simply... He could not change the world by himself overnight. Our new government required the agreement of all the states, and many disagreed with him. Unity became a priority in order for the new country to survive. He did not choose to be a slave owner, and he tried as best as he possibly could to change the laws. He was devastated that he was unsuccessful in his lifetime, but had faith that future generations with proper education would eliminate this "evil".
And he worked for that... Rather than retiring as an old man, he spent the final years of his long life working hard to build a university, with confidence that the values of the Founding Fathers ~ which included liberty for all of humankind ~ would be secured in the future if we were well educated.
It appears that this book was in part a collaboration between the author and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that owns and operates Monticello, because the messages were very much in line with the "Monticello" point of view.
These two points ~ that Jefferson was a hypocrite (adult word for this type of 'monumental flaw') because he wrote the Declaration of Independence and owned slaves, and also that he allegedly had a relationship with Sally Hemings ~ are part of their 21st century packaging of history.
The first point concerning Jefferson's slaves is overly simplistic and seems stunningly uninformed.
The second, concerning a secret slave family is unsubstantiated, relying on "strong belief" rather than on the facts ... which do not support the rumor.
It is understandable that so many trust the Thomas Jefferson Foundation simply because they own and operate ~ they "are" Monticello. Unfortunately, in my own studies, I have learned that the answers to these two concerns are not to be found at Monticello anymore. One must look beyond present day Monticello for answers.
Appropriately and tellingly, the pages on Sally Hemings just don't fit in. Throughout much of the book, there is a flow. Then we turn a page and see on the left side a section of Jefferson's farm book which he used to manage Monticello. The author tells us that we are to be sad ... the name "Sally" is on the list. Across from that on the righthand side, is a very happy (not sad), empathetic, "beautiful" imagined Sally, whom Jefferson supposedly "had children with".
In its historical context, the Sally Hemings story was born of resentment and bitterness. It began as one of many deliberate attempts to create any scandal that would prevent Jefferson's reelection to the Presidency. The story was denied by all who knew him well, like James Madison, Thomas Paine and even some of his strongest political enemies like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams (who said it was all "vapor") and Lighthorse Harry Lee, as well as by many countrymen who did not know him personally … as he was reelected by a landslide. The story was presented in a repugnant manner through deeply offensive poetry, prose and cartoons. It was not only accusatory of Jefferson, but it ridiculed and denigrated Sally Hemings in a horrible way.
Today's version of the story casts a wide net, which ranges from a Cinderella-esque romance to accusations of coercion and force on Jefferson's part simply "for his health", and every possibility in-between... whatever one wishes to believe, as long as we do "believe".
The evidence from Jefferson's time and his place, Monticello (when it was still his), is strongly against it.
In the back pages of this book, the author states that this story is still in debate. So, why the need to convince? Why persuade little children with pretty pictures? Why the emotional manipulation ~ toward children! ~ concerning an unproven "belief”?
John Locke, whose writings Jefferson greatly admired, wrote in 1693, "The little, or almost insensible impressions on our tender infancies, have very important and lasting consequences."
Don't our children deserve something more pure? History belongs to them, too. It is their legacy.
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