Joke's on George

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
George Washington falls victim to a sophisticated practical joke in this heavily embroidered historical anecdote. In Tunnell's telling, a presidential visit to painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale's natural history museum brackets a lengthy digression about Peale and his family. Touring the museum, the ever-polite George bows, he thinks, to two of Peale's sons as they ascend the stairs. But ``what George was looking at was the most incredible painting Mr. Peale would ever do . . . A wooden step extended the painted stairway out into the room. It was an illusion and a colossal joke!'' Tunnell ( Chinook! ) recruits yet another of Peale's 17 offspring as the text's chatty narrator; though humorous, the author's exclamatory style is sometimes strained. Osborn's ( Upon a Princess and a Pea ) colorful paintings similarly stress surface appeal over historical accuracy, for example, omitting cages for Peale's animals and inventing cubist canvases to fill Peale's studio. Poking fun at the first president may help interest children in Peale, but Barbara Morrow's less flashy Help for Mr. Peale handles period detail more carefully. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature
Here is a sophisticated picture book that could easily be used in Art history as well as for Washington's Birthday celebrations. I didn't know that George Washington was known for his politeness, but apparently he was. This attribute was demonstrated in his acknowledgment of servants and aristocracy alike, but in one instance it proved a joke. Mr. Washington had an unusual friend, Mr. Charles Wilson Peale, who invited him to visit a new display at the world famous museum of natural history. Ever the gentleman, George Washington accepted the invitation, wondering what novelty would be on display this time. Mr. Peale didn't do things in a normal manner and wasn't about to start now. He was a self-taught portrait artist, a bridge designer, inventor of the practical and entertaining as well as a gracious host and friend to our country's first president. Mr. Peale's latest display was one of originality, cleverness and beauty. Life-like figures of Native American Indian chiefs who visited Philadelphia were donned in authentic apparel and seemed real enough to speak. Passing among the wax figures, George and Charles came upon a door with a winding staircase where two of Charles' sons stood. Politely, George bowed to greet the children, but their silence left George confused. Imagine not even speaking to the President of the United States. Realizing George's chagrin, Mr. Peale enlightened George with the truth. The doorway, stairs and his sons were nothing more than an oil painting—an illusion. Told in the first person, as a descendent of Charles Wilson Peale, Tunnell gives authenticity to this story. While vocabulary may be a bit colloquial for young readers, it does add to the charm ofthe tale, and could serve as a springboard for dictionary activities. Not every child should be expected to understand terms such as—"doffed his hat," or "flummoxed." The brightly colored illustrations with a hint of abstract art retain the sense of creativity, yet keep the provinciality of early-American art. 2001 (orig. 1993), Boyds Mills Press, $9.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Elizabeth Young
Carolyn Phelan
From the eighteenth-century journals of Rembrandt Peale comes an incident concerning Peale's father, Charles Willson Peale, and President Washington. The elder Peale was a portrait artist, an inventor, and the curator of his own natural history museum in Philadelphia. Visiting the museum, President Washington caught sight of two of the artist's sons ascending a back staircase and greeted them. When they failed to reply or even to move, he realized to his amazement that he had been fooled by a trompe l'oeil painting mounted in a door frame. Faintly echoing cubism as well as naive American art, Osborn's paintings have an inviting look that suits the tone of the text. Fresh and funny, the book shows Washington in a new light: as a man who could enjoy a joke, even one on himself. Although the tone of the writing is rather erudite for the usual picture-book audience, elementary-school teachers may want to read this aloud for Presidents' Day.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688117597
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/1993
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 years

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