This brilliantly written book explores the differences and similarities between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and how they helped shape their cooperation in making a new nation. The book starts with a strong opening:

The true story of how one gentleman–short and stout–and another–tall and lean–formed a surprising alliance, committed treason, and helped launch a new nation.

Kerley uses that lively narrative voice through the book. She chooses strong, interesting words that make the text leap to life:

He lunged, parried, and skewered the policies of King George and his government.

Her quotations, deftly woven in, make the two men spring to life:

“You should do it,” Tom told him. “Oh! No,” John exclaimed. Any declaration he wrote would be severely criticized, for some delegates, he conceded, found him “obnoxious.”

I felt weepy by the end of the back matter, stunned with gratitude for the foolish and human but visionary men who built the United States.

Those Rebels, John and Tom, by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic: 2012.

thomas-jefferson-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-everything-12Illustrator Maira Kalman follows up her 2012 book about Lincoln (Looking at Lincoln) with a look at another president, Thomas Jefferson. Once again, the narrator’s voice is memorable and spunky, but while the Lincoln book had a childlike narrator, this book sounds like your quirky Aunt Edna telling you stuff:

But wait. We have not spoken of the Founding of America.

It’s a good choice for a biography tackling the confusing inconsistencies of Jefferson the visionary, the patriot, the slaveholder, and the philanderer.

The book competently guides its reader on a tour of Jefferson’s life. It’s organized by theme, each group of spreads looking at a different facet of Jefferson’s interests, passions, or accomplishments. There’s no bibliography and no source notes, but the real treat is Kalman’s candy-colored illustrations.

And Aunt Edna’s not a bad tour guide for a visit to a remarkable and troubling life.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman. Nancy Paulsen Books: 2014.