An account of a presidential search for notoriety.
Colonists have settled America and declared independence from the British. President Thomas Jefferson embarks on a new war with a French naturalist, who declares that nothing worthwhile—people nor animals—exists in the New World. Determined to prove him wrong, Jefferson commissions an epic search that uncovers a giant sloth, which is named Megalonyx jeffersonii in his honor but doesn’t impress the Frenchman. When woolly mammoth bones surface on a New York farm, Jefferson finally has his notoriety, and they are immediately sent to the White House, with another set bound for a Parisian museum. Despite the extensive backmatter, the story lacks historical context for the characters and events. Moreover, the digital, watercolor-style illustrations perpetuate stereotypes: A Native American in a feathered headdress (the only one in the book) peers from behind a tree; enslaved black figures work next to white ones in a semblance of parity. People of color are voiceless and have indeterminate facial features, rendering them homogenous and secondary in importance to white characters. One strongly worded backmatter paragraph about slavery (with no mention of Native peoples) is insufficient; such a complex historical event warrants address in the primary narrative in order to merit the attention of young readers today.
Whether to educate or to entertain, this book succeeds on neither front, told as it is from a colonialist viewpoint. (Informational picture book. 4-8)