A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Maira Kalman's Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything is remarkable for its bold and colorful illustrations and unflinching look at Jefferson's life. Unlike a sanitized elementary-school textbook, Kalman's engaging picture book offers a fuller picture -- including Jefferson's relationship and alleged offspring with his slave Sally Hemmings, one of about 150 slaves he owned despite having said of slavery, "This abomination must end."
What's the story?
The story starts out simply enough, with some basic facts: Jefferson was born on a plantation in Virginia in 1743, had red hair, grew up to be very tall, and became the third president of the United States. It goes on to recount the man's numerous great accomplishments and his troubling contradictions, specifically declaring slavery an "abomination" yet owning about 150 slaves. It also depicts his slave Sally Hemmings and mentions that it's "strongly believed" he fathered children with her after his wife died.
Is it any good?
This is a lively, fascinating account of the great man's life and accomplishments that's packed with fun facts and poignant asides by author-illustrator Maira Kalman. Readers can feel her excitement as she presents amusing details and sense her confusion and sorrow as she wonders how Jefferson could have owned slaves when he decried slavery. "The monumental man had monumental flaws," she writes.
But Kalman clearly wants to give him a break. When reporting that he would visit the kitchen each week and wind the grandfather clock on a page where she shows the kitchen slaves hard at work, she adds, "He probably said a few kind words to the cooks." On the facing page detailing the many kinds of pudding served at Monticello -- "all produced by the endless labor of slaves" -- she editorializes, "Jefferson may have been a kind master, but it was still a horror."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Thomas Jefferson and his many accomplishments. What are you most impressed by?
How does the portrait of Thomas Jefferson in this book compare with what you've learned about him in school?
Why do you think he didn't mention being president of the United States on his tombstone?
- Author: Maira Kalman
- Illustrator: Maira Kalman
- Genre: History
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
- Publication date: January 7, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 5 - 8
- Number of pages: 40
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love history
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.