Monday, December 14, 2009

Chasing George Washington, Based on the play by Karen Zacarias and Deborah Wicks La Puma, adapted by Ronald Kidd, illustrated by Ard Hoyt

This book has a worthwhile motive, making the history of the White House live for contemporary kids. Unfortunately, it tries to do this by giving historical characters contemporary speech and behaviors and tacking a string of historical facts onto an extremely thin plot.

Three students are on a White House tour; Dee from the suburbs who enjoys and flaunts her family's new wealth, Jose who lives in a crowded apartment building with his loving family and relatives, and Annie, a recent immigrant from Poland. The tour guide is giving the most boring tour of all time, telling the children about antique furniture and dishes and the security guard, Mr. Flower is on the lookout for any breaking of rules.

When the three children accidentally knock the portrait of George Washington off the wall, a wild chase ensues with Mr. Flower trying to get him back in his frame as they race through history and meet some of the children who have lived in the White House. They end up helping Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation and seeing the portrait being saved by Dolley Madison. George Washington ends up back in his protrait and the students now have a better understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of White House.

This story is based on a play and while I can see it working well as a school play, as a beginning chapter book it's weak and pounds in its moral with a two-ton hammer. Also, this book hits on one of my rant-buttons for books - putting contemporary language into the mouths of historical characters and giving them contemporary motives and behaviors. Yes, George Washington was a real person; a good biography can give you plenty of information about his life that shows him as a human, not just a hero of the American Revolution. But he'd never say "Hey, I like smiling...It feels good." Sheesh.

Verdict: I'd suggest Ron Roy's Capital Mysteries for kids who like historical facts and information mixed into their stories. There are also many, many excellent historical fiction and nonfiction picture books that are a suitable reading level for beginning readers.

ISBN: 978-1416948582; Published September 2009 by Simon and Schuster; Review copy provided by the publisher for Cybils

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