Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas, illustrations by Stacy Innerst
Catkins Creek: An Imprint of Highlights

Rating: 5 stars

I'm one of those geeky parents who stays on top of what my children are learning in school and tries to augment the lessons at home. I figure if I'm going to be a full-time mom, I'm going to be a great one.

Lorelei is going to start a big Lewis and Clark unit in social studies this Spring. It comes at a particularly interesting time because this summer we'll be making our own trek across the continent as we move from Virginia to Washington State. Lewis and Clark met wild savages along with a whole lot of Great Unknown; I'll just be driving with three kids. We both have some challenges on our journey...

When I saw Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation at the library, I grabbed it. It was Kiefer who wanted it read as a bedtime book, but Lorelei heard me read the title, so she ran in to join us. It's a long, necessarily wordy, nonfiction picture book. I had to pause every other page for a little bit of background or just explain something. But both Lorelei and Kiefer were curious, and learned a lot about one interesting, complicated, hugely important figure in our country's history.

The book begins: "Thomas Jefferson loved to grow things." He literally grew plants and vegetables at his home in Monticello, but he also planted seeds of freedom, the idea that America was just as important as Europe, several crops that worked elsewhere but failed in America (he remained optimistic through failure), and a nation through the acquisition of land from France.

There are many illustrations in the book that help young readers understand the text. My favorite is an illustration of Jefferson and Hamilton in a tug of war between farms and cities--would American be a nation of cities and factories or a nation of small towns and family farms?

As President, he began to plan an expedition across the continent, even before France sold the land west of the Mississippi River in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase. (This was news to me; I hadn't realized he would have authorized the journey even it wasn't American territory.) Jefferson wanted to know what was out there--Lewis and Clark sent dozens of reports back to Jefferson about the fauna, wildlife, topography of the newly acquired land. After his White House years, Jefferson returned to Monticello to savor time in his garden and fields growing things--not figuratively this time, but literally.

This book helped Lorelei have a better understanding of why the Lewis and Clark journey took place by teaching her about Jefferson and the events in his life hundreds of years ago. This is a great book to have on the shelf in a classroom, or just a perfect bedtime book for any overachieving mom to read to her naturally curious kids.


  1. I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Lewis and Clark, and it was fascinating! We didn't really cover this period much when I was in school (not American), so much of it was entirely new to me.

  2. I'm so glad you and your children liked the book. Thank you for your kind words.
    Peggy Thomas