King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution

King GeorgeKing George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution. Written by Steve Sheinkin. Illustrated by Tim Robinson. Square Fish (an imprint of MacMillan Publishers), 2009. 208 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 10 and older. ISBN: 9781596435186.

Sheinkin tells the story of the American Revolution in a fun and funny way. He uses anecdotes and stories that don’t make it into history textbooks, for example he writes about the night Benjamin Franklin and John Adams shared a bed. That night Adams wanted to close the window in the room because he was afraid of catching a cold. Franklin told him to leave the window open or they would suffocate and launched into a lecture about what causes colds, a lecture that soon put Adams to sleep. In that story, Franklin and Adams become real people, not just names to memorize.

The book is made up of short chapters that cut back and forth between battles in the North and battles in the South. The chapters also cut between the political actions of the American Congress and the war. And we see Benjamin Franklin beseeching the French government to enter the war on behalf of the Americans. We also find out that when Franklin arrived in France the British were afraid he would stretch a chain from Calais to Dover and administer an electric shock to Britain that would be strong enough to overturn the island (this anecdote had me laughing out loud).

In the very beginning of the war, at the battle in Lexington, the reader sees both the British commander and the American commander telling their troops not to fire. Yet someone fired. Both sides said it was the other side. “So no one takes credit for ‘the shot heard round the world’ — the first shot of the American Revolution.”  Throughout the book Sheinkin includes both the American and the British perspective in this way.

The irony of the Declaration of Independence declaring all men are free and endowed with unalienable rights, while many of the signers owned slaves, is addressed in a short chapter.

Many, many quotes are used and it’s fun to see who said what.

At the back of the book there is extensive reference material.

The details keep the narrative moving, but by the end of the book I was impressed by my increased understanding of the timeline of the Revolution. Sheinkin is paying attention to the big picture as well as the details.

I had a great time reading this book. I also learned (or maybe re-learned) a great deal about the American Revolution.

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Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain.  Illustrated by Larry Day.  Dutton Children’s Books, 2011.  32 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 6-8.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the best of friends while creating the Declaration of Independence and working towards independence from Britain. They were both ambassadors to European countries after the Revolutionary war, and in these roles they were also best of friends. However, when determining what kind of government the United States of America should have, they disagreed. They didn’t disagree in a friendly way; they talked about each other behind each other’s backs. They chose not to have anything to do with each other. Much later, after Adam’s and then Jefferson had been President, they each went home to read and be with their families. During this time, they once again became friends, writing many, many letters back and forth.

In “Worst of Friends” The story of Adams and Jefferson is told as a story almost every child has experienced. Who hasn’t been so angry with a friend that he or she has wanted to do the equivalent of jumping on his wig in frustration.  It makes two great men seem human. It also teaches a lesson about friendship: that when a best friendship appears to be lost, it may return again.

“Worst of Friends” also gives us an idea of what it’s like to have a political friendship.  When the two friends agree on politics, the friendship can be very close. When they disagree, sometimes the friendship has to cool down. But that doesn’t mean that ultimately the two political friends don’t have a great deal of respect for each other.

The illustrations in this book are lighthearted and funny. They augment the text, and they do so effortlessly.

In the front of the book there’s an excellent selected bibliography for adult readers.

“Worst of Friends” is a wonderful view of a friendship just like any child would have, except that this was a friendship between two of the most important people who started our country. It’s also a great example of how you can be friends, and sometimes can’t be friends, when politics are involved.