Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution

Image Shh!  We’re Writing the Constitution, by Jean Fritz.  Illustrated by Tomie dePaola.  G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1987. 64 pages.  Publisher recommends for ages 7-11.

This is the story of how we became Americans. It’s the story of how a loose federation of states transformed itself into a nation.  Jean Fritz tells the story of the Grand Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 at which the Constitution of the United States was written. She describes the issues that had to be agreed upon, such as how the states should be represented and how to create a system of checks and balances that made it as unlikely as possible that tyranny should enter into the government. She also includes human interest items, for example that Benjamin Franklin arrived at the Convention in a Chinese sedan chair carried by four prisoners because he found carriages too painful.  Tomie de Paola does a nice job of illustrating Franklin’s arrival and Washington’s Valley Forge face and how the delegates looked as they were being attacked by huge flies.

This book could easily be used as research material for writing a short paper. It’s also a story that could be read in a classroom studying the Constitution or the history of the Revolutionary generation. It includes several notes at the back. One of the notes defines words “nation” and “federal.” It might have been better to include this note as part of the text.

Following the notes, the entire Constitution is included, but not the Bill of Rights or any of the other Amendments. Fritz does address the Bill of Rights in the book so it might have made sense to include it with the Constitution, but the book is really about the Constitution itself so there is also a good argument for leaving out the Bill of Rights at the end.

Fritz’s tone is casual and slightly humorous.  It’s not at all condescending or preachy. She doesn’t spend time on the magnitude of what was being done in writing the Constitution.  At the very end she describes the awe with which the Grand Convention viewed the document once it was printed on parchment, but through most of it she’s much more focused on the process of writing the Constitution rather than that such a document had never before been written in the history of the world.