Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington

Overview

A boy from Virginia becomes the first president

Before he was the face on the dollar bill, George Washington was a shy boy with a hot temper. But George had character and adaptability. He taught himself courage and self-control. At an early age, and without really realizing it, George Washington gathered the qualities he’d need to become one of the greatest leaders America has ever known.
     Anne Rockwell’s prose is ...

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Overview

A boy from Virginia becomes the first president

Before he was the face on the dollar bill, George Washington was a shy boy with a hot temper. But George had character and adaptability. He taught himself courage and self-control. At an early age, and without really realizing it, George Washington gathered the qualities he’d need to become one of the greatest leaders America has ever known.
     Anne Rockwell’s prose is dignified, Matt Phelan’s illustrations are striking, and the details they reveal about George Washington’s early days are fascinating, sometimes tragic, and always moving.

Includes an author’s note.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The thin, swirling lines of Phelan’s soft pencil-and-gouache illustrations enhance the stirring narrative, often depicting people against their natural environment; his powerful use of shadow and light emphasizes Washington’s struggles and victories. Overall, a dynamic examination of one of America’s first leaders." —Kirkus Reviews

"Perhaps as balance to the bicentennial emphasis on Abraham Lincoln comes this welcome new picture book biography of George Washington. . . . This is an ideal introduction to the man for younger readers and listeners: nicely paced, admiring but not adulatory, and clear about his importance in history." —Horn Book

"Rockwell gives us a whole man, from shy boy to country gentleman, reluctant battlefield hero to legendary leader, and Phelan’s bold, dynamic paintings capture the nuances. In an afterword, the author considers the 'stain on the new nation’s flag,' approaching Washington’s treatment of his slaves with candor and honesty. A fine biography that respects its audience as much as its subject." —Booklist

"Rockwell's smooth storytelling and knack for economically rendered military episodes should connect well with elementary-grade children. . . . Phelan's rough line and gouache pictures . . . are sophisticated enough to draw and retain the attention of independent readers." —Bulletin

Publishers Weekly

Socially awkward children take heart: in his boyhood, the father of our country, says Rockwell (They Called Her Molly Pitcher), "wasn't afraid of bears, or wolves, or the native hunters with bows and arrows... of anything, except making conversation." Her adulatory biography offers plenty for contemporary kids to connect with: her George Washington has a temper, dislikes the blood and gore of the battlefield and, even as a general, is the first to start digging trenches. But it's Phelan's (Very Hairy Bear) extraordinary artwork that cements the bond with readers. As his pencil-and-gouache scenes review the events of Washington's life up to the presidency, his scenes bristle with immediacy, dramatic tension and emotional insight. His fluid pictures impart the sense of vivid memories being conjured up, of history being re-lived in all its urgency and telling details. Audiences accustomed to visualizing Washington as the sphinx-like figure on the dollar bill will find Phelan's dashing, steely portrait nothing short of revelatory. Ages 6-9. (Jan.)

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Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
"Shy" is hardly a presidential-seeming adjective. That seems to be part of Anne Rockwell's point, that before he was president, George Washington was a boy. As a boy, he was shy. He was also short-tempered. But through growth, studiousness, the development of maturity, and attention to responsibility, George Washington was able to achieve a role beyond what we expect from children who seem shy. Rockwell begins her biography of the tall boy during his youth. She covers George's positive relationship with his half-brother Lawrence and his study of ancient Roman heroes. She addresses the brothers' travels to Barbados, Lawrence's early death, and George's entry into military service. She also presents his family life, military leadership, and acceptance of the presidency. A full-page author's note at the end explains Rockwell's selection of Washington as a subject for her book and details his feelings about slavery. This is a compelling biography that presents a unique perspective on an important historical figure. Matt Phelan's pencil and gouache illustrations show George to be a serious, thoughtful, intense figure, but appropriately leave the details of war to the imagination. A selected bibliography of books and websites can be found on the publication data page. This title is highly recommended for classrooms, as well as school and public libraries. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal

Gr 1-3

This picture-book biography begins when Washington was 13 years old and living at Mount Vernon with his older half brother, Lawrence. The story follows him as he grew into manhood and became a soldier. Washington was not a fighter by nature but felt it his duty to defend the country he loved. And so he did throughout the Revolutionary War, where his bravery and skilled leadership resulted in Washington becoming the first President of the United States. Told almost conversationally, the story is accessible for young readers and listeners. The pencil and gouache illustrations are inviting and lend a softness to the portrait of this founding father. The subtitle suggests an emphasis on Washington's inherent shyness and primes readers for finding out how he overcame it. In actuality, little time is spent on this trait and no problems are noted for him in that regard either in his role as general or president. Despite this oddity, the book is an approachable, readable, and likable account of an important man.-Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Kirkus Reviews
Large in stature and shy of disposition, George Washington demonstrated a remarkable spirit from his early youth. This account focuses on Washington's upbringing, his Mount Vernon farming and his war experiences before his presidency, concluding with his election. Washington's hardships are convincingly portrayed as he grieves the devastating loss of his half brother in his youth. "For the rest of his life, George never spoke of that heartbreaking time." Washington's military leadership, demonstrated through Braddock's Defeat, Valley Forge and Yorktown, is effectively depicted. Repeatedly comparing Washington's life to the Roman leader Cincinnatus, his boyhood hero, Rockwell describes Washington's personal sacrifice for his fellow soldiers. The thin, swirling lines of Phelan's soft pencil-and-gouache illustrations enhance the stirring narrative, often depicting people against their natural environment; his powerful use of shadow and light emphasizes Washington's struggles and victories. Overall, a dynamic examination of one of America's first leaders. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544582460
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/2015
  • Pages: 48
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

ANNE ROCKWELL is the author of hundreds of books for children, including the distinguished picture book biography Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, an ALA Notable Children's Book. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut.
www.AnneRockwell.com
MATT PHELAN is an illustrator of both children's picture books and chapter books, such as The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, which won the John Newbery Medal. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
www.mattphelan.com

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