Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Rating: 2 stars

It's never a good sign when you wait until the day a book is due to read it.

For a bunch of small reasons, this new book about a President I respect a whole lot sure didn't work for me.  I know why it didn't get much attention from Lorelei (who, besides me, is the main reader of this type of nonfiction picture book in our house): there is no story. I know that she read it, but there is no tale or rise and fall and resolution pattern that is what is usually needed to grab a child's interest.

I know this next reason I didn't like it is a random quibble, but the font is also a very strange choice: it's a mix between Times New Roman and a casual, handwritten-like font that includes a whole lot of cursive.  In schools around us, cursive is taught in third grade.  But this is a book allegedly aimed for 5 to 8 year olds.  Hmm.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything is, basically, a long list of the things in which Thomas Jefferson was interested.  Though Kalman never uses this term, it is an explanation of how he was a renaissance man.  He read on many subjects, spoke half a dozen languages, cared for his farm, designed his own house, practiced the violin three hours a day, wound the clock in his kitchen daily.

Monticello, which means "Little Mountain" in Italian
Kalman also boldly includes how Jefferson, who wrote how horrid slavery was, also owned slaves.  She even--this surprised me very much--talks about how, after his beloved wife died, he allegedly "had children with the beautiful Sally Hemings," one of his slaves.

Kalman includes her own parenthetical musings every few sentences.  After she paraphrases one of Thomas Jefferson's long-winded quotations as "Don't be lazy," she includes "(It is boring to be lazy.)" After she reports that Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable was peas, she includes "Peas are really wonderful and fun to count." After explaining how Thomas Jefferson had fierce tribal shields on his walls that could give you nightmares she writes "(Ugh. Nightmares. Why do we have them?)"

I'm baffled by this book.

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