I Am George Washington: Ordinary People Change the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am George Washington: Ordinary People Change the World Book Poster Image
Cute, engaging bio applauds having the courage to be first.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's a lot of historical information about the Revolutionary War era as narrated by young cartoon George, some of which (for example, the the fact that in his first military engagement, Washington was fighting for the British against the French and Native Americans) may be a bit over the heads of 5-year-olds, despite the publisher's recommendation. But, like the whole Ordinary People Change the World series, I Am George Washington invites many repeat visits over the years, and each visit brings up something newly interesting.

Positive Messages

Having the courage to do something no one's ever done before is a big theme here, as are doing what's right and looking out for others. Early in life, young George is copying from a Book of Virtues, the first of which -- "Every action done in company ought to be done with some kind of respect" -- is always good to remember.

Positive Role Models & Representations

George Washington's bravery, kindness, respect for his fellow humans, as well as hard work and love for learning, all come into play. And the story makes it clear that while it's important that George had the courage (and preparation) to be the nation's first general, first president, and so on, it's also pretty important that he didn't forsake his poor family when a rich family took him in -- and that when his presidency ended, he went back to his farm and left the country in the hands of its citizens.

Violence & Scariness

Some kids may be creeped out by Washington's death mask in the appendix (it's not scary-looking, but the whole idea of death masks may be a bit much for the target audience) or grossed out by the photo of his (not wooden) false teeth. There's also a mention of the harsh conditions at Valley Forge, where many soldiers had to go barefoot in the snow.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am George Washington is part of the Ordinary People Change the World series by author and History Channel host Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos. Like other entries in the popular series, it uses comic-book-like images and speech balloons to tell much of the story. While publishers recommend this book for ages 5 to 8, a lot of its concepts and language (for example, the Book of Virtues and the issues behind the Boston Tea Party) are going to be downright bewildering for little kids. Also, Washington's death mask and false teeth in the appendix may creep out some readers. But like its companion books, it's an engaging, relatable introduction to a notable historic figure who started life as a regular kid. And images like young George swimming in the river while still wearing his three-cornered hat will intrigue and delight littler kids and entice them to make return visits when they're ready for Valley Forge.

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What's the story?

In I AM GEORGE WASHINGTON, a cute kid-sized cartoon George with puffy white hair and a fancy three-cornered hat takes the reader from his childhood in colonial Virginia to the Revolutionary War and the beginnings of the United States. Joining the popular Ordinary People Change the World series, which includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, and Jackie Robinson, among others, the book uses words, comic-book-like illustrations, and a lively little cartoon character to introduce the lives and times of onetime regular kids who went on to achieve something great. In this case, the future Father of His Country started out as the fourth of nine children but found himself being first at many things later in life, doing what no one had ever done thanks to good character qualities developed in childhood.

Is it any good?

The latest illustrated biography in Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopolous' Ordinary People Change the World series spotlights the life and times of the first U.S. president, a onetime regular kid. Guided by a cute, kid-sized cartoon George with a three-cornered hat atop his puffy white hair, the reader learns about Washington's childhood, how his life changed when his father died, and how the values he learned as a child helped him rise to the challenges of doing many things no one had ever done before -- like leading a new country.

While aimed at kids 5 and up, I Am George Washington includes a lot of information that will confuse the younger set, but it's also the kind of book that will keep revealing something new in many visits over the years.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the first U.S. president is portrayed in I Am George Washington. Does it make you think about this historical figure as a kid like you? Or do you think something always sets apart great leaders from regular people?

  • What other stories do you know about George Washington? (Such as the famous one about the cherry tree, which this book reminds us isn't true.) How do you think these made-up stories get started? Why do they last hundreds of years?

  • Do you like learning about history? What are some of the best things you've learned?

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