Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock

Alice’s review clued me into how much I’d probably love Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, so I hied me to my own library and requested a copy. We’ve had the library copy around the house for over two weeks now (I know because we have a two week loan period at this library and I called to renew it and others when they were only a couple of days overdue **ahem**), and I just last night got around the reading it in its entirety. The thing about our Founding Fathers is that–my goodness!–their lives are good for so much book fodder. I love that this particular book focuses on one aspect of Thomas Jefferson’s life–his passion for reading and books–and makes it interesting and accessible to children. (I know it’s accessible to children because my girls–ages nine and eight–devoured it in the van on the way home from the library or shortly thereafter.) The text of the book is interspersed with facts and quotes from Jefferson’s life (mostly the quotes are attributed to him, but a few are from his grandchildren, a slave, and one of his political opponents). The library alluded to in the title is, of course, the Library of Congress–or is it? Actually, Jefferson built several libraries over his lifetime, so it could be one of several discussed and described in this picture book. John O’Brien’s pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations are whimsical and funny and detailed–the perfect accompaniment to this fascinating story of an overarching theme in Jefferson’s life. (I first fell in love with O’Brien’s illustrations in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom from A to Z by Alan Schroeder.) The only part of this book that rings sort of hollow to me is that in the short author’s note, there’s a section devoted to “Thomas Jefferson, Slaveholder.” There’s only one mention of slavery in this whole picture book–a quote from an enslaved tinsmith at Monticello–so this part of the author’s note seems extraneous to the topic at hand. All in all, I give this one a big Highly Recommended and I’m moving this one near the top of my elementary/middle grade picture book list for the Armchair Cybils. (Calkins Creek, 2013)


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