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Lynne Cheney is a very gifted writer. She is, of course, the “2nd Lady” (wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney). But she is also a distinguished scholar with impressive credentials, including a Ph.D. in British Literature. She served as the Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993 and is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past six years she has published a series of very good children’s books on topics in American history.
When Washington Crossed the Delaware is subtitled “A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.” With a clear, direct narrative, Ms. Cheney sets the scene of the beleaguered American army which had been driven from New York and forced to retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. She talks about how desperately the Americans needed a victory – in order to give everyone some hope that they could eventually defeat the British. She mentions Tom Paine, who marched with the American army as they retreated through New Jersey and includes the famous line he composed on the march, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . .”
The paintings that accompany Ms. Cheney’s text are wonderful. The illustrator was able to visit the site of the crossing, consult with local historians and witness a winter re-enactment of the crossing. The attention to detail shows. You can feel the cold. Your eye is involuntarily drawn to the figure of Washington, warming himself by a fire on the New Jersey shore of the river.
After the army is assembled, you can see Washington’s impatience and determination as they set out towards the Hessians soldiers who have occupied Trenton. He had hoped to attack before sunup, but now would be attacking shortly after dawn. The narrative mentions that both 19-year-old Captain Alexander Hamilton, and 18-year-old Lieutenant James Monroe took part in the crossing and the attack on Trenton. Monroe was badly wounded leading a charge against the Hessians, when they managed to get two of their cannon into operation. Hamilton went on to be a signer of the US Constitution and served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. Monroe would be elected our fifth President in 1808.
Following the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton, Washington continued his offensive by launching an attack on the British regulars a few miles northeast of Trenton at Princeton. In that battle, Washington personally rallied his troops and led them to within thirty yards of the British lines. It is miraculous that he survived the volleys of musket fire, but when the British line broke, he joined in the pursuit.
The twin victories at Trenton and Princeton lifted the spirits of the Continental Army and patriots throughout the colonies. For the first time, the American army had defeated British regulars (and German mercenaries) on the field of battle. There would be many more battles and several years of trials, but the character and commitment of General Washington were brilliantly displayed.
Perhaps the best part of this book is that although it is pitched towards elementary students, the story will appeal just as much to older students. First graders will be captivated by the full-page color illustrations and enjoy having the text read to them. Third/Fourth graders will probably be able to read it for themselves. Each two-page spread includes a quotation from an eyewitness/participant in the battle.
– Rob Shearer, Publisher
PS: You have to love the picture of Lynn Cheney with a group of students on the back cover!
PPS: I’ll have a complete review of We the People in another newsletter.
These seven biographies have one thing in common. Nope, they’re not all Presidents (see Benjamin Franklin). They were all written and illustrated by the incomparable Cheryl Harness. There is a different unity of purpose achieved when the illustrator is also the author of the text in a book. Harness is a master of both crafts. She tells a very good story – clear and straightforward, with an instinct that helps her to select the anecdotes and incidents that are intrinsically interesting and character-revealing about her main subject.
In George Washington, Harness shows Washington as a frontier surveyor, Virginia planter, commander of the militia, and quiet delegate to the colonial legislature. She shows the moment at which the Continental Congress selected him to command the Continental army, with the famous founding fathers looking on as a he addresses them, reading from his notes. She shows him crossing the Delaware, seated, cold and grim-faced as he is rowed across to New Jersey, gambling his small army in a surprise attack. Then she shows him in September of 1783, at the end of seven years of war, saying goodbye to his officers at Queen’s Head Tavern in New York after the last British warship had sailed away with the last of the British troops. Four years later, he reluctantly leaves Mt. Vernon and heads for Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention. It took another ten years, until the spring of 1797 before he could return to live at Mt. Vernon year-round. The last picture Harness gives us is of Washington, aged 68, in December of 1799 out riding through the fields of Mt. Vernon, making his rounds. The chill resulted in a cold which worsened and led to his death on December 14, 1799. This is an excellent biography. Text is written at a 5th-7th grade level and those are the ages who will enjoy the detailed pictures and notes the most, though older readers could learn much from the text as well.
You can tell that Harness feels a certain affection for John Adams by reading her introduction:
“In the nation’s capital, the sun glitters on stone monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams was every bit as brave as the former and as brilliant as the latter but there is – at this writing – no such monument for him. Perhaps this is fitting, because stone is cold, and he was anything but. The United States is a proper, living monument to intense, cranky, warm, heart-on-his-sleeve John Adams – America’s champion.”
Her drawings are, as usual, wonderful. There is a full-page portrait of Adams (is he smiling or smirking?). There are pictures of his families house in Braintree and of Adams as a boy skipping school and hiking to a hill overlooking Boston harbor. The developments in Massachusetts that brought Adams to the forefront are retold in a simple summary. In a delightful format (made possible my Adams’ lifelong, affectionate correspondence with his wife, Abigail) each page has at the bottom a line from a letter – usually one from Abigail on one page and one from John on the other. There are several wonderful pictures depicting Adams diplomatic mission to France during the Revolutionary war (where he served alongside Franklin – and was accompanied by his young son, John Quincy). The political triumph of Adams’ life was his service for eight years as George Washington’s trusted vice president (Thomas Jefferson was secretary of state). When Washington’s term ended, Adams was elected as the second President of the United States (with Jefferson as HIS vice president). The political tragedy which followed was his estrangement from Jefferson leading to their fiercely fought election contest of 1800, in which Adams was defeated for a second term and Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. Harness concludes with several pages depicting the Adams living in retirement back in Massachusetts, in a house they named Peacefield. Twelve years after their bitter election contest, Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson and began a fourteen year correspondence in which the two old friends and then rivals became friends again. Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy elected President in November of 1824, though he was unable to attend the inauguration in March of 1825. On July 4th, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – Adams died quietly at his home in Massachusetts.
Thomas Jefferson, in Harness’s tale is a tall, gangly, red-haired, brilliant Virginia planter, with piercing eyes transfix your attention in the portrait Harness has produced. She dwells a bit on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration having owned slaves – and repeats the historical gossip that Jefferson was the father of his slave Sally Hemings six children. It’s possible that he was – but I don’t think the matter is (or probably can be) settled conclusively. Harness does an excellent job depicting Jefferson’s child- and boyhood in colonial Virginia and the excitement he felt as a student in Williamsburg. The death of Jefferson’s wife in 1782, towards the end of the revolutionary war (and of three of his young children as well) had a profound effect on him – captured and poignantly portrayed by Harness. Jefferson departed in 1784 for Paris with one of his two surviving daughters (eight year old Polly) and a 14-year-old slave, Sally Hemings. After the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson stayed on in Paris until 1789. Just as the French Revolution was breaking out, he returned home to serve as George Washington’s Secretary of State. He resigned at the end of Washington’s first term. In the election of 1796, he finished second to john Adams, and thus became Vice President. He and Adams differed sharply on many things, mostly and more and more about France. Adams (and his supporters in New England) were angry with the French and appalled by the excesses of the Revolution there. The expected war with France. Jefferson and his supporters felt that the United States should continue it’s alliance with France, in spite of the Revolution (even with its excesses) He expected war with England. The presidential election of 1800 saw Adams vilified as an “insane monarchist,” and Jefferson denounced as “an atheist and a revolutionary.” Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington DC. For eighteen years he had been a widower, and his housekeeping at the executive mansion was “eccentric.” His scientific bent and natural curiosity led him to champion the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the dispatch of a “Corps of Discovery” under Lewis and Clark to explore the vast wilderness. After the conclusion of his second term in 1809, Jefferson returned to Monticello where he continued to collect books and scientific instruments. The last few years of his life he spent much time on the establishment of the University of Virginia – and in the renewed correspondence with his old friend and rival, John Adams. He and Adams both died on July 4th 1826.
Ben Franklin is a rich subject for Harness’ palatte, from his days as a printer and continental postmaster to the Continental Congress, the Court of Louis XV in France, and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin’s warm, wry visage is evident everywhere. The text and the images communicate strongly his role as the kindly grandfather of his country.
Abe Lincoln’s life has so many colorful anecdotes that it merits two books from Cheryl Harness. The first (Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837) covers his childhood and life until 1837 – in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois, on a flatboat on the Ohio and the Mississippi, keeping store, electioneering and finally moving to Springfield to begin his law practice in 1837.
The second volume on Lincoln (Abe Lincoln goes to Washington 1837-1865) begins with his life in Springfield, one term as a US Congressman, and his eventual election in 1860 as President of the United States. It is a remarkable story with a number of vivid and striking scenes: Lincoln dancing with Mary Todd at a formal ball in 1839, Lincoln debating Douglas in 1858, Lincoln traveling by train to Washington in March of 1861 (under threat of attack by secessionists); Lincoln and his wife at the bedside of their son Willie, who died in February 1862 at the age of 12; Lincoln as he looked the day of the Gettysburg address; and finally Lincoln’s funeral train on its journey back to Illinois.
Finally, Harness has chosen a delightful subject (dee-LIGHT-ful!) in Young Teddy Roosevelt. She does an excellent job of depicting and describing his remarkable childhood and the personal handicaps (especially his struggle with asthma) that he had to overcome – as well as the personal tragedies that he faced – especially the death of his wife and mother just a few days after the birth of his first child. Teddy’s remarkable political career (New York State assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, United States Civil Service Commission, under-secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York) is covered as well as his exploits out west on his cattle ranch and his service with the rough riders in the Spanish American war. The book ends with his inauguration as president in the fall 1901 following the death of President McKinley. One hopes that Harness will follow this volume up with one on Teddy’s equally remarkable career as president from 1901-1909.
Any or all of the nine Harness biographies can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press:
George Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Revolutionary John Adams, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Thomas Jefferson, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, by Cheryl Harness – $17.95 (HB)
Young Abe Lincoln, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Young Teddy Roosevelt, by Cheryl Harness – $18.00 (HB)
There are very few children’s books on Napoleon. There are hundreds of thousands of books for adults but only a handful of children’s books – only three in print that I could find. Napoleon is an important historical figure, perhaps one of the two or three greatest generals in all of recorded history, in the rarefied company of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Like Alexander and Julius Caesar, although we admire their genius, there are lingering questions about their personal character and the distorting effects of their own egos and ambitions.
Napoleon, in addition to his military genius, is in many ways the father of modern France. Its system of government and laws was created by Napoleon, and has been only slightly modified since. The French still feel an affection and admiration for the “little corporal,” that, while not always shared by the rest of the world, must be grudgingly acknowledged.
Napoleon: The Story of the Little Corporal is a excellent introduction to Napoleon, perfect for middle school students as a first read, useful for high school students and adults who want to start a study of him. It is also a visually fascinating book, since it uses the contemporary (and quite famous) paintings of David, Goya, Gros, Couder and others to illustrate the historical narrative. The artwork is beautiful — the book would be worth buying for the paintings alone!
The book also makes excellent use of the writings of Napoleon himself. Indeed, the author’s note states, “I have drawn on Napoleon’s own words to anchor each section, hoping this will give readers a sense of his complex personality. He was a man of action — of that there is no doubt. but he was also a man of words — witty, insightful, and ready to comment on anything and everything — his own life most of all!”
“You tell me it is impossible. There is no such word in French.”
Napoleon became a general before he turned twenty-five and was a famous, victorious field commander before he was thirty. He became First Consul of France without having any political experience, at the age of 30, and Emperor of France at 35. Deposed and exiled to an island in the Mediterranean at age 45, he escaped, returned to France, and was restored to power. A year later, he was forced out again. He spent the last six years of his life a prisoner on an even more remote island in the south Atlantic, dying in 1821 at the age of 52.
“I love power as a musician loves his violin.”
“I am the state — I alone am here the representative of the people.”
“I am an upstart soldier.”
“There is no immortality but the memory that is left in the minds of men.”
A vote was held in France in 1800 to approve the Triumvirate, and Napoleon’s position as First Consul. The results were three million in favor, and 1,500 opposed.
Aside from the fascinating artwork, the author has done an excellent job of telling the story of Napoleon’s brilliant career in a simple straightforward fashion.
Napoleon was the most famous figure in the world for two decades. His example was invoked in the political debates of England, the USA, Italy, Germany, and beyond. His career is still hotly debated. To cite but one example: in the presidential campaign of 1800, Jefferson charged that Adams and Hamilton were planning to the use the army to seize power, following the example of Napoleon.
For all those who are interested in the events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, this is an essential book.
There’s a Pulaski County in several states. There’s a city named Pulaski in Tennessee. Pulaski was a Polish patriot who escaped the partition of his own country in Europe and came across the ocean with letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. He wrote home to his friends, “If I cannot fight for freedom in my homeland, I will fight for freedom in America.” Pulaski was commissioned a general by the Continental Congress on the recommendation of Franklin and Washington and fought with Washington at Brandywine and later commanded an expedition sent south to retake the port of Savannah. Pulaski was wounded in the battle and died shortly afterwards. His story his told more fully in a ten minute DVD movie included in a flap on the inside cover of the book.
The text of the book focuses on Kosciuszko who came to America without letters of introduction from Franklin. He served as an engineer in the Continental Army and was instrumental in the colonists’ victory at Saratoga and achieved the rank of Colonel. It was the victory at Saratoga that persuaded the French to send troops with Lafayette to assist the colonists. Later, he successfully fortified the Hudson River at West Point so effectively that the British had to abandon plans to sail north and attack Albany. Kosciuszko continued his service with Washington and was present at Yorktown during the siege and surrender, playing a valuable role in laying out the American siege lines.
After the War for Independence, Kosciuszko returned to Poland where he is honored as a leader in the Polish fight for independence from Russia and Germany.
This is a remarkable book, on two figures who ought not to be overlooked. Their stories help all of us to understand that the American Revolution did not happen in a vacuum, but had an impact on contemporaries around the world.
The text is upper elementary, and the book includes a 10 minute public-television-style movie on Casimir Pulaski hosted by the author.