The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America Book Poster Image
History this lively should be required reading in school.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Tons of information and context about the founding fathers and U.S. colonial history are told with humor and insight.

Positive Messages

All people are created equal and deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Strong messages about religious freedom, the evil of slavery, the value of education and public service, the benefit of compromise, and working together despite your differences. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

All 14 of the men profiled are role models for their intelligence, dedication, vision, and public service. Some are more flawed than others or hold less enlightened views than others (such as on religion or slavery), yet all are admirable for their enormous achievement in forging a democratic republic from scratch. 

Violence & Scariness

References to war, the Boston Tea Party, slavery. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America​, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Barry Blittis a rollicking look at 14 of the men who came together to form a more perfect union -- starting with the Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution and Bill of Rights. There's talk of the men's Revolutionary War and military service, where they stood on the Boston Tea Party and slavery (many opposed it yet owned or kept slaves), and lots more. A great choice for reading alone or aloud, at home or in school, it's a picture book with enormous appeal for kids well past the picture-book stage. Back material offers more context about the issues the founders wrestled with and provides an extensive list of resources for further study.

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What's the story?

THE FOUNDING FATHERS offers lively portraits of the 14 most famous founding fathers, who helped form the United States of America: the "Varsity Squad" made up of George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton; and the "Junior Varsity Squad" made up of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Gouverneur Morris, John Marshall, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Paine. The two-page spread on each man offers a full-page ink-and-watercolor drawing on the left, with each man's nickname (such as "John Adams: His Rotundity") and, on the opposite page, a concise profile with a few of each man's famous quotes, as well as a set of stats (height, weight, wealth, education, hobbies, achievements, religious faith, position on slavery, and more) noted in amusing ways. There's more explanatory material about the issues they debated at the back, as well as a valuable list of resources for further study. 

Is it any good?

This is a highly entertaining information fest written in lively, conversational, slang-dotted prose that makes for both fun and provocative reading. (A great example would be Alexander Hamilton's "Stance on France: Not a fan.") The details of their lives are charming and quirky and will surprise readers who imagine the founders as a solid block of devout, practicing Christians (many were not) who had only the highest ideals and were above reproach. These profiles make clear that these were exceptionally intelligent visionaries but also were flawed men and sometimes hypocritical thinkers who squabbled over taxes, central government vs. states' rights, foreign wars, religion, and slavery as they hammered out our representative democracy. 

Barry Britt's ink-and-watercolor illustrations add humor in each emblematic full-page caricature -- Alexander Hamilton, known for fighting for a constitution (some folks were against having one), is pictured wearing boxing gloves as he holds quill and paper, with steam coming out of his ears; John Adams, known to sob a lot, is shown with a box of tissues, dabbing a tear from his eye -- as does spot art accompanying the list of stats, portraying, for example, Ben Franklin, who lived in France for many years, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette. This book would be wonderful for reading alone or in school and will delight kids well beyond the usual picture-book age. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the men who were America's founding fathers. Did you have any idea they were such colorful characters? What facts about them surprised you the most?

  • What's different about the way history is presented in The Founding Fathers from the way it's written in school textbooks? What do the illustrations of the men add to your understanding of them? 

  • What do you think about the fact that so many of the founding fathers owned slaves -- even the ones who said they opposed slavery? 

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