ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD:
I AM GEORGE WASHINGTON
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $12.99, Ages 5-8)
For Presidents’ Day 2017, let’s take a look at Brad Meltzer’s I am George Washington, another terrific biography in the popular and entertaining Ordinary People Change The World series. These books serve as a great introduction to some of the world’s greatest heroes and historical figures while emphasizing that individuals are not born into greatness but work hard to achieve it, earning the public’s trust, respect and admiration along the way. Each person depicted in the series has demonstrated proven leadership skills or unique knowledge making them worthy of inclusion.
The fourth of nine children, George Washington had great people skills, something needed in a large family, and eventually, to run a nascent country. Back when Washington was growing up, there was no U.S.A. yet, only colonies ruled by Great Britain. Readers will learn how Washington’s older brother Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, had a positive impact on his younger brother. In fact, a soldier himself, Lawrence influenced Washington’s decision to serve in the military. When his father died, Washington’s family could no longer “afford proper schooling so my brothers had to teach me at home.” At sixteen, Washington worked as a surveyor in the Shenandoah Valley with a wealthy family called the Fairfaxes. They treated him kindly and exposed him to the finer things in life. Yet, despite the opportunity to hobnob with the rich, Washington never forgot his roots and all the people less privileged than the Fairfaxes. He later fulfilled his childhood dream by joining the military, showing bravery and leadership in battle and being made “commander of all Virginia’s fighting forces.” George Washington also ran for office, and though he lost at his first attempt, he won all future elections.
Interior spread of George Washington Timeline from Ordinary People Change the World: I am George Washington by Brad Meltzer with illustrations by Christopher Eliopoulos, Dial Books ©2016.
When the American Revolution began in protest against high taxes imposed by Britain, “Our thirteen colonies decided we would fight together against King George III.” Washington was chosen to lead the battle. Cleverness, determination and unparalleled leadership helped the less experienced military of the colonies defeat the mighty British led, of course, by General George Washington. And the rest, of course is history, with Washington being selected as the first president of the United States of America.
What I love about Meltzer’s writing and Eliopoulos’ artwork is that they make learning about these important people so accessible, interesting and fun. Who doesn’t love seeing a miniature George Washington on every page or having him narrate his life’s story? Picking out the most relevant aspects of any individual’s life is never easy and to condense them into a picture book biography for elementary school aged kids and still be meaningful takes a lot of experience, something best-selling author Meltzer has lots of! The choice of Eliopoulos as illustrator is just icing on the cake and I cannot imagine this series with any other style artwork. And did I notice author Meltzer drawn into one spread near the end? See for yourself and let me know.
“Leadership doesn’t come from charisma or personality.
It comes from courage:
The courage to do what’s right.
The courage to serve others.
The courage to go first.”
And George Washington, the father of our country, had enough courage for an entire nation and we celebrate him today.
Ordinary People Change the World website
Brad Meltzer website
Christopher Eliopoulos website
Best Books for Inauguration Day 2017
As our nation’s 45th president, Donald Trump, is sworn in, it feels fitting to share these three presidential-themed picture books looking at all aspects of a presidency including leadership qualities, first ladies and pets. Enjoy the variety!
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Sara Varon
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 5-8)
Meet Squid. He’s going to be president and he’s going to be “the greatest president who ever lived.” Towards this goal Squid’ll do five things other presidents have done including:
1. Wearing ties.
2. Living in an enormous house (don’t miss the shark who has just taken a bite out of Squid’s home and is quickly leaving the scene.
3. Being famous and having a book named after him.
4. Talking so everyone has to listen.
5. Bossing everybody.
But somehow the way Squid conveys those qualities doesn’t seem to go over too well with all the other fish in the sea. It takes a very little sardine stuck in a clamshell to explain the true qualities of a special leader which Squid attempts to do. Ultimately though, this all proves to be too exhausting and the way Squid sees it, it might be even better to be king!
Though published last year, the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story still resonates today. Reynolds has found a fun way to help parents make kids laugh while starting the conversation about ego, leadership and character. Varon’s illustrations depicting a hot pink squid jump off the page and grab our attention just like Squid wants.
What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies
Written by Ruby Shamir
Illustrated by Matt Faulkner
(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
One of the What’s The Big Deal About new series of books, this entertaining and informative picture book is a timely read as we welcome on the second foreign-born first lady to the White House, the first being Louisa Adams. Melania Trump is following in the footsteps of some amazing women including Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and so many more.
Author and former White House staffer (including two years working in the first lady’s office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then leading her NY Senate office), Ruby Shamir poses a bunch of questions that kids might ask about the role of first lady. She answers them but doesn’t rely on lengthy responses. Rather she uses fact boxes to highlight some of the most meaningful and interesting contributions America’s first ladies have made.
“I’m so excited to offer young readers a window into the most important contributions this diverse array of patriotic women have made to our culture and history,” says author Shamir. “Even when women’s opportunities were hampered by custom or law, America’s first ladies turned an ill-defined, very public role into an opportunity to serve our country and shine a spotlight on our finest ideals.”
What’s The Big Deal About First Ladies helps young readers gain insight into the many responsibilities of a first lady. The following examples will also help youngsters appreciate the positive impact first ladies can make on our country: Did you know that Abigail Adams was not only a first lady but the first second lady (Vice President’s wife)? Or that Julia Grant opened up White House events to curious reporters? Or that Grace Coolidge was famous for having a pet raccoon named Rebecca, and having taught deaf children, she got her husband to pay attention to people with disabilities? Mary Todd Lincoln was the first first lady to welcome African Americans to the White House as guests. And when Eleanor Roosevelt learned opera singer Marian Anderson was banned from a concert hall for being African American, Roosevelt was instrumental in getting her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead!
Shamir’s keen curation of which first ladies to cover invites curious children to delve deeper with additional reading. Faulkner’s artwork gives a loose interpretation of the featured women, honing in on some key aspects of the first ladies’ lives and breathing life into every scene. There’s also a handy list in the back matter of all the presidents, their term dates and the first ladies’ names that, along with the fascinating content, make this an excellent addition to any classroom or library.
Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House
Written by Julia Moberg
Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $7.48, Ages 3-7)
A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces with each turn of the page.
DIANA’S WHITE HOUSE GARDEN
Written by Elisa Carbone
Illustrated by Jen Hill
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)
Diana’s White House Garden takes place in 1943 when the US is at war. Ten-year-old Diana Hopkins lives in the White House because her father, Harry Hopkins, is President Roosevelt’s chief advisor. When the president announces, “we all need to do our part to win this war,” Diana considers how she can contribute and soon tests her skills as a spy and a city official. Clearly, she’s better at playing with the Roosevelts’ little Scottish terrier, Fala. Next, Diana tries leaving sharp pins in the satin chairs to deter the enemies; it doesn’t have the effect she hoped for.
President Roosevelt decides to ship most of the food grown by US farmers to the soldiers, ensuring they are well fed and strong. He declares that Americans should grow their own food, turning backyards and vacant lots into Victory Gardens, starting with one on the White House lawn. Diana offers to help, excited to begin.
She works with Eleanor Roosevelt and the groundskeeper. Soon the garden sprouts—only to be nibbled down by hungry rabbits. Enlisting Fala does the trick; the dog is able to keep the rabbits out while Diana learns from Mrs. Roosevelt that, “sometimes you just have to start over.”
The story comes to fruition with their first delicious harvest. As Diana and her father dine with the Roosevelts, the reader gains intimate access into a world rarely revealed to the general public. This book successfully conveys the human element at the heart of all meaningful relationships, whether between president and citizen or girl and dog.
Sepia-tone paper perfectly accompanies the lively illustrations which depict well-researched scenes from the 1940s. We travel through this important historical period with Diana, understanding the timelessness of childhood. The opening line says it all, “Diana Hopkins lived in a white house.” An enduring need for community—whether you live in a white house or in the White House—connects this seventy-three-year-old story with families today.
Find educational resources and more about author Elisa Carbone here.
Visit illustrator Jen Hill’s website here.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/