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George Washington's Teeth

George Washington's Teeth

5.0 3
by Deborah Chandra

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From battling toothaches while fighting the British, to having rotten teeth removed by his dentists, the Father of His Country suffered all his life with tooth problems. Yet, contrary to popular belief, he never had a set of wooden teeth. Starting at the age of twenty-four, George Washington lost on average a tooth a year, and by the time he was elected president,


From battling toothaches while fighting the British, to having rotten teeth removed by his dentists, the Father of His Country suffered all his life with tooth problems. Yet, contrary to popular belief, he never had a set of wooden teeth. Starting at the age of twenty-four, George Washington lost on average a tooth a year, and by the time he was elected president, he had only two left! In this reverentially funny tale written in verse and based on Washington's letters, diaries, and other historical records, readers will find out what really happened as they follow the trail of lost teeth to complete tooflessness.

Illustrated in watercolors with subtle humor by Brock Cole, the main story is followed by a four-page time line featuring reproduced period portraits of Washington.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A highly palatable historical morsel.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“This accurate and intriguing slice of history should find a place in any elementary school library.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review

“. . . breezy, sympathetic, carefully researched vignette . . . [one] that will have readers feeling the great man's pain--and never looking at his painted visage the same way again.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Illustrator Cole is at his absolute best here, totally at ease with the human gesture and expression. . . . This is history for youngsters that will stick; it's wild and fun and factual, without a trace of mockery.” —Booklist, Starred Review

“[A] carefully researched, very funny, charmingly illustrated picture book that works to humanize a larger-than-life historical figure and in turn, history itself. Brilliant!” —Amazon.com

Publishers Weekly
In a clever approach to history, Chandra and Comora string together spry stanzas describing the dental difficulties that plagued George Washington. Rhyming verse explains how the general's rotten teeth gradually fall out during the Revolutionary War: "George crossed the icy Delaware/ With nine teeth in his mouth./ In that cold and pitchy dark,/ Two more teeth came out!" Cole complements this verse by rendering a sly watercolor twist on Emanuel Leutze's famous painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware, in a full-spread treatment: Washington still stands in quiet dignity, but the boatmen are grinning. By the time Washington is elected president, just two teeth remain in his mouth. Kids will love the details, such as the way Washington uses a pair of his molars to fashion a mold from which the dentist makes a set of dentures (these are carved from hippopotamus ivory, and even shown, in a photograph in the afterword). Infusing his bustling watercolor vignettes with comic hyperbole, Cole easily keeps pace with the lighthearted narrative. One especially funny image shows the president sprawled on the floor, legs in the air, after viewing a newly painted portrait ("George stood up to have a look-/ He fell back on his fanny./ `It doesn't look like me!' he roared./ `It looks like Martha's granny!' "). An annotated timeline at the end includes quotes from the leader's letters and diaries chronicling his relentless efforts to hide his dental problems and the extent to which they caused him chronic pain and embarrassment. A highly palatable historical morsel. All ages. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Forget what you thought you knew about George Washington's teeth. Plagued by poor dental health all of his life, Washington had already lost two teeth by the time he was twenty-two. Over the next 40 years he continued to lose, on average, one tooth a year until, at age 64, his last tooth was removed. Ill-fitting ivory dentures with wires caused his gums to swell and made chewing difficult and required incredible muscle control. No wonder his smile always looks so unnatural. Rollicking verse, enlivened by Brock Cole's witty drawings, tells of the effect Washington's long-suffering dental woes had on his military career and public life—"George crossed the icy Delaware/With nine teeth in his mouth/In that cold and patchy dark, /Two more teeth came out." And "Poor George had two teeth in his mouth/The day the votes came in/The people had a President, /But one afraid to grin." Using historical records, letters, and diaries this humorous and reverent portrait follows the trail of the missing teeth and sets the record straight once and for all that Washington's false teeth were not made of wood. The appended time-line with sources gives veracity to the verse and will garner much sympathy for the Father of Our Country. 2003, Farrar,
— Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5-In 28 rhymed, four-line stanzas, Chandra and Comora tell the sad story of George Washington's teeth. Beginning with the onset of the Revolutionary War, the countdown takes poor George from just about a mouthful of painful, rotten teeth to a state of complete "tooflessness"-and then to a pair of entirely successful dentures. Cole's watercolor cartoon illustrations are just right, giving comic vent to George's despair, hopelessness, fevered attempts at finding his teeth, and final triumphant, toothy strut at a ball. A beautifully illustrated four-page time line shows portraits of the dentally challenged first president and photos of his homegrown, incredibly uncomfortable-looking dentures, made of gold and hippopotamus ivory. (Contrary to legend, Washington never had wooden ones.) Given that his death was probably hastened by an untreated infection from old root fragments in his gums, this is not only a historical treatise, but also a great lesson in dental hygiene. Paired with Laurie Keller's antic Open Wide: Tooth School Inside (Holt, 1998), it could be used as a real-life example of the havoc wreaked by bad teeth. With 17 sources listed as contributing to the art and dental information on the time line, this accurate and intriguing slice of history should find a place in any elementary library collection.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Now It Can Be Told: that severe, square-jawed look that the Father of Our Country flashes in his portraits reveals not only strength of character, but also his struggle to hide the fact that he was nearly (entirely, later in life) toothless by keeping a succession of spring-loaded false teeth in place. Drawing information from Washington's own writings, the authors deliver a double account of his dental tribulations: first in sprightly rhyme-Martha "fed him mush and pickled tripe, / But when guests came to dine, / He sneaked one of his favorite nuts. / Then he had only nine"-followed by a detailed, annotated timeline. Cole's (Larky Mavis, 2001, etc.) freely drawn, rumpled-looking watercolors document the countdown as well, with scenes of the unhappy statesman at war and at home, surrounded by family, attendants (including dark-skinned ones), and would-be dentists, all in authentic 18th-century dress. Contrary to popular belief, Washington's false teeth were made not of wood, but of real teeth and hippo ivory; a photo of his last set closes this breezy, sympathetic, carefully-researched vignette on a note that will have readers feeling the great man's pain-and never looking at his painted visage the same way again. (source notes) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
8.26(w) x 10.21(h) x 0.20(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Deborah Chandra's previous children's books include A is for Amos, which Publishers Weekly called "a charmer" in a starred review. She lives in Altadena, California.

Madeleine Comora is an author and poet who lives in Glendale, California.

Brock Cole is the author and/or illustrator of many books, including the picture books Buttons, a Boston GlobeHorn Book Honor Book, and Larky Mavis. His newest picture book, Good Enough to Eat, will be released in Fall 2008 by FSG. He lives in Buffalo, New York.

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George Washington's Teeth 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A lovely collection of pastels about historic moments with George, in rolling rhyme, and humorous verse. While aimed at K -Grade 3, this book will be enjoyed by older readers as well (including adults, although they may find it irreverent). It's a great selection for older siblings to read aloud to elementary students. Demonstrates the need for dental hygiene. The grand four page timeline '...from his own letters, diaries, and accounts' is well designed- even has pictures of George's last set of dentures (and they were NOT WOODEN). A painting of G. W. in 1776 shows a scar from an abscessed tooth. George tried to retain this natural teeth, spending over $1,000/year on dental bills.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Here's the real truth on our first President's tooth! No, he didn't really have a set of wooden teeth. But, poor man, the Revolution wasn't the only battle he fought. We learn in this delightfully illustrated book that from the age of 24 he lost a tooth a year. Hence, by the time he reached the presidency there were only two teeth left. (Their whereabouts in his mouth seem to be unknown). Based on historical records as well as Washington's letters and diaries this is a sprightly, fascinating account of the root of his problem (pun intended). Youngsters will learn a bit of history as well as enjoy a rollicking good read. For instance, they'll learn about Washington crossing the Delaware, and that he then had only nine remaining teeth. He didn't have too many teeth to chatter during the frozen winter at Valley Forge as there were only seven left. According to a letter Washington wrote he did at one time wear false teeth secured by wires hitched around his remaining teeth. His last set of dentures were made by a Dr. Greenwood, and carved from hippopotamus ivory. This is a well researched book complete with excerpts from Washington's letters and diaries. Witty pastel illustrations enhance the text. For all ages.