Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

George Washington’s Birthday by Margaret McNamara

It’s President’s Day in the U.S. which usually falls between the birthdays of two of our most important presidents, Abe Lincoln and George Washington. Today’s book is a whimsical look at the latter.
Not having baby humans myself, I don’t often read or review childrens books, but sometimes I find one that’s irresistible and such is our title today. In America, George Washington looms large as a one of our Founding Fathers, so thinking of his boyhood, as this book does, is unusual. And though it is not disrespectful, it’s filled with gentle humor that would appeal to readers of any age.
The story takes place on George’s seventh birthday, when no one seems to remember it’s his special day. We see young George doing lessons, helping with chores and playing outdoors on a February day. The various activities address the myths that has grown up around Washington’s reputation through the centuries. One myth, which I hadn’t heard before, was his ability to throw a stone clear across a wide river. As for the most famous one, he chopped down the cherry tree during some over zealous pruning in the family orchard. Recounting a true story is the birthday boy beginning a list of Rules For Living, which he really did carry with him throughout most of his life.
As with most children’s books, the illustrations are as important as the words and in this case provides much of the humor. The artist Barry Blitt, has done covers for The New Yorker magazine, as well as other national publications. His watercolors of muted blues, greens and browns convey a winter landscape and rustic home interior. I’m not certain that the Washington family home was quite as sparse as depicted, but I digress. There’s also the bizarre image of little George cuddling a hatchet as he goes to sleep at the end of the day, but that’s just one of the many hatchets tucked into the décor.
I did like the thought bubbles showing George’s future, from the heroic deeds he would do to the horses he would have. One shows he and his horse Snow nearly buried in a snowdrift, adding a smile along with a reminder of the harsh winter at Valley Forge during the American Revolution.
Young George is not made into an angel, he is full of the self-importance of children at that age, and in one of the funniest bits, calls his older brother a tyrant under his breath during a math lesson. This book is a fun biography and makes our first president accessible, so it might show kids that history can be interesting and enjoyable, which is always a good thing.
Schwartz & Wade Books 2012 14 pp. ISBN 978-0-375-84499-7

One comment on “George Washington’s Birthday by Margaret McNamara

  1. Hilary
    February 19, 2014

    Thanks for this enticing review, Jackie. GW is well-known in Britain, as he is a key figure in our history too if for different reasons – but apart from the tree and the chopper we don’t get to learn much about his life. This book looks enchanting, and could be a handy introduction over here too! I love the cover, thought the style looked familiar, and am not surprised that I’ve seen this artist’s work before on the cover of the New Yorker.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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