Children’s early American history books tend to focus on men of the American Revolution, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson is equally important, but he seems to be summed up in, a) writing the Declaration of Independence, and b) sponsoring Lewis and Clark. Jon Meacham’s latest book, Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher, takes big ideas from the fascinating life of our third president and makes them accessible to young readers. As a child, Jefferson was inquisitive and smart. He loved to learn about many different things, like gardening and astronomy. As an adult, his travels to heavily political places like Williamsburg would influence his chosen career–politician! Throughout his 83 years, he saw some of the United States’s greatest trials, like the Revolutionary War and its messy aftermath. Jefferson was a complex man who did not always do the right thing, but he certainly left his mark on American history.
Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher is a wonderful stepping-stone book for young readers ages 10 and up who have a base in American history. It is told in the classic cradle-to-grave fashion, so there is a lot of material to cover, but there is large print and reasonably sized chapters. The reader is seamlessly guided from Jefferson’s privileged childhood to his dramatic years in politics. Jefferson’s many interests, like his passion for books and archeology, along with his love for the United States, form the backbone of the 320-page book. Kids will enjoy finding such fun facts throughout the book. However, Meacham does not shy away from Jefferson’s problems with married women or the appalling Sally Hemings affair. Readers of all ages will be intrigued by the many photographs, charts, maps, and extra facts about the times that dot the chapters. One of the best parts about the book is that it includes many special features at the end. Among them are excerpts from Jefferson’s notebook, a family tree, a timeline, and a list of places in the U.S. and France that honor him. All of those factors combine to make Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher a winning book for curious kids!