Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything
by Maira Kalman
I did not know that Thomas Jefferson had red hair and freckles.
I did know he was the third president of the United States.
I did not know that his Monticello home had seventy-six windows.
I did know about his writing of the Declaration of Independence.
I did not know that his favorite vegetable was peas.
I did know that he orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase.
I delighted in reading this marvelously illustrated picture book about Thomas Jefferson, the "monumental man (who) had monumental flaws." However, it screeched to a halt for me three fourths of the way through when the polite, multilingual, book-loving man became the owner of about 150 slaves, among them Sally Hemings, who was strongly believed to have had children with him. What is a picture book meant for children in kindergarten through third grade doing by introducing Sally Hemings?
I love that this 'presidents are people too' book included the pages showing the slaves who worked for the man who said of slavery, "This abomination must end." He is real and hardly faultless, from his violin-playing to his huge gardens to his fig-plucking walks with his friend the visiting Marquis de Lafayette. I just don't think that the discussion of Sally's possible role in his life is necessary for elementary school students.
I showed this book to several elementary school social studies teachers who said they would have loved to have shared it with students except for the Sally pages. In grade school American history text, that surely is a topic best discussed at home. So should it have been included here?
What do you think?
Submitted by Andrea Perry