Saturday, February 21, 2004
George Washington's Teeth
Chandra, Deborah and Madeleine Comora. 2003. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374325340 [Suggested Grade Levels 1-3]
SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
This unusual picture book intertwines the history of George Washington’s military and presidential exploits with the loss of his teeth. It gives center stage to an aspect of history that isn’t usually addressed in textbooks: it focuses on one of the more “everyday” problems of a man famous for his military and political careers.
Readers will learn about the troubles the first president had with teeth being pulled and his ill-fitting dentures, made from hippopotamus ivory. This should help children see that the President had typical problems just like they do, which humanizes a great man who is usually depicted in books with much reverence and honor but is infrequently portrayed as just an ordinary guy who had a lot of toothaches.
Style-wise, this book takes a light-hearted approach to a rather painful subject and manages to incorporate some historical facts along the way. A timeline at the end lends the text more credence as a history book; children can follow along and learn about the state of Washington’s troops or teeth during any given year of his life.
The rhyming text is light and amusing, not falling into the trap of being heavy-handed or choppy. The watercolor artwork blends well with the text and shows the progression of George’s plight in not-too-gory dental detail.
This story, aside from providing some historical information, is also a cautionary tale about what can happen without proper dental care. Children can write stories about when they went to the dentist and what might have been different for George if he had had access to a good dentist. The librarian could also present how medicine was different in the past and how much this has changed since George’s day.
This story could be a jumping-off point for children to learn more about other founding fathers, and perhaps to have a class “Colonial Day” where children dress and do activities related to the Revolutionary War period. Older children could write about their favorite heroes from this era or do reports on aspects of daily life.
Other stories about famous figures from this period:
Adler, David A. A PICTURE BOOK OF THOMAS JEFFERSON. ISBN 0823408817
Fritz, Jean. SHH! WE’RE WRITING THE CONSTITUTION. ISBN 0698116240
Fritz, Jean. WHY DON’T YOU GET A HORSE, SAM ADAMS? ISBN 0399234012
Fritz, Jean. WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA, BEN FRANKLIN? ISBN 0698113721
By Shannon McGregor