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THOMAS JEFFERSON by Maira Kalman Kirkus Star


Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

by Maira Kalman ; illustrated by Maira Kalman

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-24040-9
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Beautiful and a little sad: the complex, brilliant, flawed nature of the third U.S. president.

Kalman’s rich, impressionist colors and lively lines offer glimpses: Monticello; the chamber where the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; portraits of Jefferson’s wife and of Sally Hemings. The image of Jefferson on horseback riding along a lane at Monticello, redbud in bloom, seems both immediate and long past. Kalman’s poetic presentation conveys succinctly what a longer text might: Jefferson was a lover of books, an autodidact and an aesthete. His house was both functional and beautiful. His personal life was layered with sadness: Only two of six legitimate children survived past childhood; his wife died young. Kalman doesn’t speculate on the source of Jefferson’s passion for the ideals of democracy and liberty yet conveys clearly his contribution to the growing nation as founding father and president. But this intriguing man was a slave owner and father to children whose mother and aunts were severely oppressed. Kalman’s intimate address to listeners and readers works well here: A charming, earlier narrative acknowledgment that peas have their appeal (as they did for Jefferson the gardener) gives way to the thorny personal realization that someone admired fails profoundly to meet expectations: “Our hearts are broken,” is stated flatly next to a ledger of payments to enslaved residents of Monticello.

Impressive complexity put artfully and respectfully within the grasps of young readers.

(Picture book/biography. 7-11)