A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Abundant facts about Jefferson and interesting details about his life at Monticello, including that his favorite vegetable was peas, that he practiced the violin three hours a day, and he served vanilla ice cream in his dining room. There's mention of his enslaving 150 people, including Sally Hemmings, and a reproduction of a page from Jefferson's farm book listing his enslaved workers, including her. "It is strongly believed that after his wife died, Jefferson had children with the beautiful Sally Hemmings," says Kalman. "Some of them were freed and passed for white," she writes, and then explains what "passing for white" means. A double spread of "Notes" at the back has an item about Sally Hemmings that concludes, "Some controversy remains about whether or not Jefferson was the father of her six children -- he never commented on it publicly."
Jefferson's quotes include: "The object of walking is to relax the mind"; "When you are angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, to 100"; and "Determine never to be idle." Plus there's a strong message to be bold, stand up for what you believe in, make your own path in the world, and take risks. Also there's the notion that people should be free to practice whatever religion they like and that, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal."
Positive Role Models
Thomas Jefferson was a courageous man who loved books and learning and was interested in "everything." An inventor and a visionary, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. As the United States' third president, he doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase. He sent Lewis and Clark on an expedition to explore the land from the Mississippi River to the West Coast, and he designed and built his great house and estate, Monticello. He was a great leader and a founding father of America but also a man of contradictions. He called slavery an "abomination" but enslaved 150 people and, "it is strongly believed," fathered several children with Sally Hemmings, an enslaved woman in his home, after his wife died.
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 offspring with Sally Hemmings, who was one of about 150 people he enslaved despite having said of slavery, "This abomination must end."
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 enslaved people 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 enslaved kitchen staff 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."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.