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

Wonderful picture book about Thomas Jefferson
Wonderful picture book about Thomas Jefferson
courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books

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


Maira Kalman writes her second historical picture book about a president with "Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything." As with "Looking at Lincoln," this picture book is beautifully illustrated with Kalman's typical colorful illustrations featuring heavy brushstrokes, some black outlines, and wide swaths of color.

Kalman also uses different fonts with great success. She uses a typeface for most of the text but intersperses it with handwritten text which combines block lettering and cursive. Sometimes the handwritten text denotes Kalman's comments or opinions.

There are some lists, including a list of peas (Arkansas, black-eyed, cowpea, everlasting, hotspur, marrowfat, pearl, Prince Albert and Prussian blue), and some Native American tribes (including Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Oto, to name a few).

There are portraits of other famous people, including one of George Washington with an inset painting of his false teeth. Kalman tells the reader that Jefferson "loved music. He practiced his violin three hours a day. HOW did he have time for that?" And it's Kalman's commentary on Jefferson that makes this book not just an ordinary nonfiction book about a past president.

She also openly discusses Jefferson's greatest wrong. She writes, "The man who said of slavery, 'This abomination must end,' was the owner of about 150 slaves. The monumental man had monumental flaws." She also shows the slaves listed on an inventory and writes "Our hearts are broken."

Kalman also writes about the African-American slave Sally Hemings, and notes that " is strongly believed that after his wife died, Jefferson had children with the beautiful Sally Hemings. Some of them were freed and able to pass for white." Kalman explains what that means and how sad it was that people had to hide their backgrounds but that perhaps they felt they had no choice in "such a prejudiced land."

It's a lovely, truthful, informative and unbiased book, and it should be a part of middle grade classrooms. One interesting fact that Kalman notes is that Jefferson wrote his own epitaph, and on it, he did not mention being president, although he mentions many of his other accomplishments.

The Notes at the back explain in more detail the various aspects of Jefferson's life that are touched on in the book.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books for review purposes.

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