Liv Tyler

Wednesday reading — you know, for kids

What I've been reading

I decided to read all the books about Alexander Hamilton published for a juvenile audience at my library to see which if any of them were actually worth recommending. Well, almost all of them. I skipped most of the extruded juvenile nonfiction product because it is generally maybe one step above fake prop books in terms of literary quality.

I read Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words. This is a picture book which says it is recommended for grades 4-6, although I think that is fairly old. I would have guessed maybe grades 2-4, and I personally see no reason you couldn't read it to, say, a kindergartener.

I love the illustrations in this one; they're very expressive, with great body language. There's a two-page spread of Burr stomping away from the table that Washington and Hamilton are at that's just hilarous. I liked the text well enough, too, although I feel like it ends on a weird note:
[…] Burr died a forgotten man in New York City at the age of eighty.

On the other hand, Hamilton's reputation soared after his death. Towns, streets and parks were named after him. His portrait appears on ten-dollar bills. Today, few people realize that both men were at fault for the most famous duel in American history.

I mean, what?

I read The Alexander Hamilton You Never Knew, even though it looked suspiciously like extruded juvenile nonfiction product, pretty much solely because I was intrigued by the cover illustration, on which the part of Alexander Hamilton seems to be played by a Labyrinth-era David Bowie. The book itself did not really live up to that cover, unsurprisingly, although it was produced by an actual author of some note and so isn't as terrible as some of the stuff I've seen.

By far the greatest flaw is that it attempts to cover everything after Washington's second term in literally the penultimate paragraph. In one sentence he manages to not explain anything about what kind of scandal damaged Hamilton's reputation but kind of imply that it was professional in nature. The duel, which is the sort of thing you would think would hold kids' interest and is also actually kind of important, gets a whole three sentences. It reads like he realized that he was running out of pages and just wrapped everything up as quickly as possible. I find this baffling.

I read Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider, which I'm pretty sure is the definitive recommendation for a middle-grade audience. It is well-written and also has great design.

I also found two children's fiction books featuring Hamilton. The first one, Alexander Hamilton: Young Statesman, was just terrible. Although the publisher's tagline on their vintage 1990s website is "Hook kids on History with The Young Patriots Series", I can't imagine many kids voluntarily slogging through this one, in spite of the addition of a talking parrot sidekick. I wouldn't have finished it either if I didn't want to complain about how lousy it was. It's terrible.

The other fiction book I read, Little Lion, was a significant improvement. It's actually the second book in a series, about these twins, who can travel back in time using various historical objects from a collection in their old family home…but only when they both touch them at once…and they're also in possession of a shard from a certain Ming vase…and their time traveling adventures are also somehow connected to the health of their great-aunt, who is revealed to have once done some time travel of her own…frankly, even allowing for the fact that I hadn't read the first book in the series, I found the setup somewhat arbitrary and convoluted. The important part is that the characterization of the young Hamilton is delightful. Maisie, the girl twin, develops her very first crush on him. I feel you, Maisie.

I also read The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, an actual book for adults. Conveniently, I was looking for books specifically about Washington at the Constitutional Convention, which is exactly the subject of this one.

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