We have Hamilton fever in this house. One of the great things that has come out of that, apart from listening to the music non-stop, is that it has gotten my girls interested in learning more about our history around the time American Revolution. We had been thrilled to read Aaron and Alexander back in the summer, but when we were at the library recently, I happened upon the section covering this period in history and started grabbing (973.4 for anyone interested).
Obviously, one area that gets covered is the relationship that we know between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. As I mentioned, we had previously found the book Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History, by Don Brown. This outstanding book shows the parallels between the two adversaries lives from their formative years until the unfortunate duel.
In a similar fashion, Dennis Brindell Fradin covers the historic duel in Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words. While this book shows how the two men led similar early lives, it focuses quite specifically on the moments that led to Burr calling for a duel. Although the two men followed very similar paths, Hamilton was the favorite of George Washington and had a better way with the public. When Burr won a seat in the Senate by defeating Hamilton’s father-in-law, Hamilton took it as a personal assault and launched his own assault on Burr. This continued as Burr tried to run for President against Jefferson and then continued when Burr tried to run for governor of NY. Burr demanded that Hamilton apologize or duel and we all know what happened next. Fradin not only does a great job in explaining why they dueled, he explains how that one duel changed the futures for both men.
For older kids interested in the Hamilton/Burr relationship, Judith St. George wrote a parallel biography of the two called The Duel. In this book, aimed at kids in 5th grade and up, St. George reveals how these two men’s lives were intertwined for some twenty-five years, with their resentments and misunderstandings culminating in the tragic duel. Rather than alternating chapters between each man, each chapter focuses on a period for both of them and then looks at them each independently. Since Ron Chernow’s book is overwhelming for an adult, this is a much better option for a kid who wants to learn more about the relationship.
There was another difficult relationship happening at the same time which fortunately did not result in a duel – the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In her book, Those Rebels, John & Tom, Barbara Kerley does an interesting job of showing how Adams and Jefferson were both incredibly different, the desire to be free from England brought the two together. Adams liked to talk while Jefferson was a thinker and writer, but together, the utilized their strengths to create our country. Kerley uses some great examples of why the colonies decided to go to war, but also how hard it was to unite the initial congress toward a common purpose. The book was very well done, but at times it felt a little confused.
Suzanne Tripp Jurmain did a slightly better job of showcasing the relationship between Adams and Jefferson and its importance in Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud. This book starts out by looking at how the two utilized each other’s strengths when building this nation and then quickly changes to 1790 when they both returned from Europe. Each man had very different opinions about how to run this country – Adams favored a strong, powerful President while Jefferson feared an over-powerful leader who would rule like a monarchy. Their feud continued for years until Adams finally wrote a friendly letter to Jefferson on January 1, 1812. This version of their lives does a great job attempting to illustrate and explain a complicated part of our history.
Lest we forget, these big names were not the only important people during the creation of our country, there are some great books that focus on more leaders. The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America, by Jonah Winter, is a fun way to learn details about 14 of our Founding Fathers. Each page has a paragraph of basic information, famous quotes, and a list of items that allows you to quickly compare one man to another.
The feminist in me knows that we can’t forget the women of this period. They definitely don’t get mentioned very often, but fortunately there are two great books that cover the women of the revolution. Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies, by Cokie Roberts, does a wonderful job at highlighting a few of the women who made contributions to creating this nation. Women of this period were often talented writers who used their pens to bring aid to the revolutionaries, businesswomen who managed finances and farms while their husbands were away, and early suffragettes. Roberts also discusses the fact that women were often spies and messengers for the war effort.
Laurie Halse Anderson also urges young children to remember women in Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution. Whereas Roberts devotes pages to individual women, Anderson writes this version more like a picture book. Within each spread there are small tidbits of information on individual women. We are reminded that American women initiated a boycott on British items like fabrics and tea. Because many men didn’t pay attention to women, they were able to spy and slip through unnoticed. A marvelous book!
Finally, Jacqueline Jules penned an outstanding, child’s eye view of how the United States became a unified country in Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation. After the war, there was very little in terms of centralized government, but this created a wealth of problems from trading to money and acceptance of boundary lines. Jules explains how the states came together during the summer of 1787 to write the Constitution and then beautifully illustrates the wide variety of problems they faced coming to an agreement. The United States government is incredibly complicated and Jules did a great job of making it accessible for kids.
My kids have had a great time learning more about the life and times of Hamilton. It is amazing when a Broadway musical can encourage a child to learn more about history!
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!