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[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Library Fit For A President in “Thomas Jefferson Builds A Library”


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

This is the second of a two-part series featuring American Presidents who happened to love books. Last week, I shared about Abe Lincoln’s bookish story.

This week, we have Thomas Jefferson. Perfect for our #metareading theme.

Thomas Jefferson Builds A Library

Written by: Barb Rosenstock Illustrated by: John O’Brien
Published by: Calkins Creek, 2013
ISBN-10: 1590789326 (ISBN13: 9781590789322)
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike last week’s PBB on Abe Lincoln, this one traced Thomas Jefferson’s life story from childhood and tied the narrative firmly to his love of books and his eventually becoming a book collector.

I think what made this book work really well for me were the little inserts that included specific facts about Jefferson’s life, and actual quotes that are attributed to him (see image above) – it was kind of like reading little books within this bigger book, that is all about the love of books – talk about #MetaReading in its fullest glory.

He also has his own system of organizing his books – and no, they are not according to colour or theme or author – but according to size apparently. What was heartbreaking, though, was how his first library was destroyed in a fire, as can be seen in the little insert – upper left corner in the image above.

What truly resonated with me, though, was how he would prioritize the purchasing of books when he traveled. He would visit libraries and purchase books written in that country’s language. While it is true that his privileged way of life permitted him to do this – it is still noteworthy how he valued this enough that he put this above any other thing that he could have spent his money on. Clearly, he loved books, and was a veritable book hunter as well – so much so that his collection was eventually purchased by the Library of Congress when the British soldiers invaded Washington and set fire to the library in 1814.

While there is a distinct dissonance and incongruity between Jefferson’s supposedly being a progressive and the fact that he was a slaveholder, this was tackled with a degree of candor in the Author’s Note – along with a weblink to compelling stories of some African American families. Jefferson, apparently, owned over six hundred individuals throughout his life:

His slaves’ labor allowed Thomas Jefferson the time and money to pursue his scientific interests, his book collecting, and his political career.

More than anything, I feel that this book would, no doubt, generate a great deal of discussion among bright young students, especially when facilitated by a thoughtful teacher who would use the critical multicultural analysis framework in digging deeper into this narrative.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Library Fit For A President in “Thomas Jefferson Builds A Library”

  1. I enjoyed this book about Jefferson’s book love and search very much, Myra. Nice to hear of your interest in it, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. annettepimentel

    Those quotations from Jefferson are beautifully placed in this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved his lifelong thirst for knowledge but I’m glad the author’s note included the fact that he was a slave owner as well. It’s interesting to read an aspect of someone’s life knowing it’s not the whole picture.


  4. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My 2017 in Books, Reading Stats, and Best Books Read in 2017 Across Genres – Gathering Books

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