Review: Thomas Jefferson by Maira Kalman

thomas jefferson

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

The author of Looking at Lincoln takes on Thomas Jefferson in her newest picture book biography.  The focus in this biography is on the wide range of Jefferson’s interests and how he truly was a Renaissance man.  Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and built, serves as a fine background to his interests since the home itself was ever changing and also housed many of his interests as well.  The book looks at fascinating small details like the design of Jefferson’s bed, the extensive vegetable gardens, and his hours spent practicing music.  After fully exploring Jefferson personally, the book turns to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson becoming the third President of the United States.  Then the book also explores the fact that Jefferson had slaves and fathered children with one of them, Sally Henning.  This is a complex and thorough look at a man who was brilliant in so many ways but troubled as well.

Kalman writes biographies with her own opinions right on the page.  So when she addresses the slave issue, she speaks of “our hearts are broken” and then speaks to how tragic it is that Jefferson’s children who could pass as white had to hide who they really were.  This adds a personality to the book, making it far richer than simple facts would.  It will assure young readers that it is good for them to have opinions about history and to express them too.

As always, it is Kalman’s art that sets this book apart.  Her illustrations range from more serious portraits of the historical figures to eye-popping bright colors in the vegetable gardens where paths are pink next to the bright green of the grass.  It is all entirely rich and joyful.

Another dynamic and unique biography from Kalman, this book belongs in every public library serving children.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

2014 New Zealand Children and Young Adult Book Awards Finalists

The finalists for the New Zealand Children and Young Adult Book Awards have been announced.  The entries were narrowed from a field of 120 down to five finalists in each of four categories.  Here are the finalists:



The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

Machines and Me: Boats by Catherine Foreman


The Three Bears…Sort Of by Yvonne Morrison & Donovan Bixley

Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver & Sarah Davis

Watch Out, Snail! by Gay Hay & Margaret Tolland



 Anzac Day:the New Zealand story The Beginner's Guide to Hunting and Fishing in New Zealand, Paul Adamson “An Extraordinary Land” – Discoveries and Mysteries From Wild New Zealand.  An evening with Peter Hayden and Rod Morris

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting & Fishing in New Zealand by Paul Adamson

An Extraordinary Land by Peter Hayden & Rod Morris

Flight of the Honey Bee 

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber & Brian Lovelock

Wearable Wonders by Fifi Colston



Dunger Felix and the Red Rats cv_project_huia

Dunger by Joy Cowley

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe

Project Huia by Des Hunt

The Princess and the Foal A Winter's Day in 1939

The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik



Bugs Mortal Fire A Necklace of Souls

Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

A Necklace of Souls by R L Stedman

Speed Freak When We Wake (When We Wake, #1)

Speed Freak by Fleur Beale

When We Wake by Karen Healey