I had no idea that I could learn so much from a children’s picture book, but after reading Tina Nichols Coury’s book Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore ($16.99, Dial Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) with its fantastic, beautifully envisioned illustrations by Sally Wern Comport, I’m convinced.
Perhaps like me, you were on a cross country teen tour when you first laid eyes on Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Or maybe you and your family were vacationing and taking in some of America’s most iconic landmarks. Whatever brought you to Mount Rushmore, I am sure it is something that you have not yet forgotten. Well neither could author Coury who was determined to share the story of “one little boy who grew up to complete one of America’s greatest monuments.” I am so glad she did!
The book introduces us to young Lincoln Borglum, son of the renown sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and transports us back to the 1920s into his father’s art studio where he spent much of his childhood. Lincoln preferred sweeping up the studio or modeling for his father over socializing with other children his age. The family moved often for the elder Borglum’s commissions and forging friendships for a shy lad like Lincoln proved a lot less interesting than observing a master sculptor at work.
When Gutzon Borglum shared with businessmen his idea to carve the faces of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln into a South Dakota mountain, it was welcomed as a terrific venture. What I did not know was that originally the monument was conceived with only the above mentioned three presidents and that it was President Calvin Coolidge who suggested the addition of Teddy Roosevelt. I also was very surprised to learn that during the half-completed carving of Thomas Jefferson it was discovered that the “rock under Jefferson’s face was unstable.” The entire work had been for naught and had to be demolished and begun all over again.
There are so many other interesting facts that Coury has provided, but rather than go into too much more detail here, suffice it to say that we find out Lincoln eventually chose working alongside his father on the massive monument rather than attending university. The significance of that choice was major as it was Lincoln, after his father’s death, who would be instrumental in continuing his father’s work and seeing it to fruition.
While I do not picture 5 year olds reading this book on their own, I do envisage parents, older siblings and librarians happily sharing the story with them. With the publication of Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose we now have a child-friendly vehicle from which to launch into our own impressions of this great monument depicting two Founding Fathers along with two other great presidents and for that alone we can be grateful. Happy Independence Day!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel