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"The George Washington You Never Knew": A character study

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Scholastic/Children's Press

George Washington's Birthday or Presidents Day will be celebrated on Monday, February 15th.  Washington's Birthday was originally established in 1880 for government offices in the District of Columbia and was expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. There was a failed attempt in 1968 to also honor Abraham Lincoln on this date, hence the name Presidents Day, but to date there is still not a federal holiday to honor Lincoln. Presidents Day persists as a commercial holiday to promote many store sales.

As we get ready to celebrate the birth of  the "Father of Our Country", a reading of "The George Washington You Never Knew" will enrich student understanding of his leadership role  in the founding of our nation.  While this is clearly a book that should be used within a social studies curriculum, the content provided by the author,James Lincoln Collier, is also  a  story of how Washington's character developed over time and how he learned lessons that allowed him to become the admired figure he is today.

A true story of character development

We know George Washington from his many portraits that make him seem stone-like and solemn but the real George Washington was a warm hearted and generous person who loved to have people around. "The George Washington You Never Knew" walks us through his life starting with George as a young man whose father dies when he is eleven years old. While the Washingtons were not poor, the family finances after his father's death would not allow for George to go to school in England as his older stepbrothers had.

At sixteen, George decides to become a surveyor and try to make money from buying and selling land. Instead his job led him to explore the Ohio Territory and the wilderness of Virginia.  He found he liked the frontier life, riding his horse all day and learning from the Indians. Proud, impulsive, and hot-tempered but with a knowledge of the wilderness, Washington was ordered by King George to lead a force into the Territory to meet with French and Indian leaders.  Once there, Washington caused an incident that led to the French and Indian War.  Still, throughout the years of the War, he proved himself capable of command and became a local hero. 

Then,for sixteen years  he retired to a private gentleman's life, became a smart and fair businessman and lived a happy life with his family at Mount Vernon. That is,  until the cries of "taxation without representation" echoed through the colonies.  At the age of forty, Washington was no longer impetuous and had become a good listener and problem solver.  In 1775 at the meeting of the Second Continental Congress, he was named to head the newly established American army.

The reader will live through the ups and downs of the American Revolution: Washington's cleverness at the Battle of Long Island and the Crossing of the Delaware,his fairness to the British Loyalists at their defeat at Trenton and Princeton, his steadfast bravery in battle, and his ability to graciously accept and learn form the help offered by the European military.

In 1783, the British finally left New York and Washington went home to Mount Vernon.  He did not want to leave home again, but knew that he must attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  Once there, he worked quietly behind the scenes, crafting compromises until a Constitution was signed. In 1789 he was unanimously elected the first president of the United States.  It is quite a story. 

This book meets the National Curriculum Standard for Social Studies: time,continuity, and change.

The reading level is for ages 9-11.


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