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Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything [NOOK Book]


Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president.

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, ...
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Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president.

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves.

As she did in Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman shares a president’s remarkable, complicated life with young readers, making history come alive with her captivating text and stunning illustrations.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Harold Holzer
…[Kalman's] exuberant Matisse-like style, eye for unusual detail, and disarming bluntness enliven her breezy and typically offbeat life of Thomas Jefferson. She talks children's language, too…Kalman, a subtle but shrewd moralizer, is right on the mark in summarizing Jefferson as "optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous." Her book is hypnotically charming, abounding with striking little details that children will remember.
Publishers Weekly
Kalman turns her gaze on America’s third president, without the unconditional adoration she brought to Looking at Lincoln. Jefferson was “a terrible speaker but a great writer,” Kalman explains, lingering on his Declaration of Independence’s notions of equality: “It would be many years until most Americans were treated equally but it was the ideal on which America was founded.” Initially, Kalman focuses on Jefferson’s genius for collecting, architecture, and gardening, but halfway through, she reveals, “The man who said of slavery ‘This abomination must end’ was the owner of about 150 slaves. The monumental man had monumental flaws.... What did they do? Everything.” She pictures “the beautiful Sally Hemings” smiling and suggests that “some of” Jefferson and Hemings’s children “were freed and able to pass for white.” Other elephants in the room include Jefferson’s antiquated attitudes toward Native Americans and land grabs. Kalman dwells in conflict and raises questions to the end, pronouncing Monticello a symbol of all that is “optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous” about America. Includes author notes, not seen by PW. Ages 5–8. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (Jan.)
The Horn Book
“Striking picture book biography. . . . A colloquial, occasionally arch, and whimsical narrative, heavy with historical import and dotted with trivia. The vibrant imagery, frank content, and disarming language combine in a nuanced portrait that respects its subject and its audience in equal measure. At a time when the Founding Fathers are invoked frequently as heroes of lost, black-and-white propriety, a biography of such candor is welcome indeed. Direct, objective author’s notes about the people and places involved round out this substantial offering.”
* “Vibrant gouache paintings. . . . The voice is that of a curious child reporting fascinating research findings . . . allows Kalman to supply a wealth of information. . . . Playful but informative, as quick witted as Jefferson himself, this will inspire young readers to learn more.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Arranged to pique children’s interest even as it covers salient textbook facts. Kalman reprises some elements of her marvelously innovative picture-book biography Looking at Lincoln, including an accessibly informal tone, a fruit bowl of vibrant colors, a frequent focus on a single telling artifact, and plenty of holes punched through the fourth wall to invite readers into the conversation. . . . Her candid discussion of Jefferson’s contradictory views on slavery is particularly well handled, and a closing observation gives kids permission to be perplexed by this complicated guy."
School Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
Gr 1–4—The inimitable Kalman brings her wit, wisdom, and beautifully unique artwork to one of America's most complex founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson. A thinker, a gardener, a writer, a statesman, and so much more, Jefferson cultivated many interests and pursuits. His ability and need to balance the cerebral with the physical is evident in how he lived, the advice he gave, and the friends he made. Kalman does not shy away from Jefferson's ownership of slaves and relationship with Sally Hemings, which are handled directly and effectively. Bits of historical context are included, but the focus here is on the man and his "pursuit of everything." The text alternates between facts, which appear in a more traditional font, and asides to the reader and Kalman's own thoughts, which are highlighted in large, hand-lettered print. Kalman's distinctive, bold-stroked gouache paintings keep the tone light and fresh, providing plenty of details that garner a closer look. Share this along with the author's picture-book biography of Abraham Lincoln, Looking at Lincoln (Penguin, 2012) to inspire young historians and artists alike. —Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-23
Beautiful and a little sad: the complex, brilliant, flawed nature of the third U.S. president. Kalman's rich, impressionist colors and lively lines offer glimpses: Monticello; the chamber where the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia; portraits of Jefferson's wife and of Sally Hemings. The image of Jefferson on horseback riding along a lane at Monticello, redbud in bloom, seems both immediate and long past. Kalman's poetic presentation conveys succinctly what a longer text might: Jefferson was a lover of books, an autodidact and an aesthete. His house was both functional and beautiful. His personal life was layered with sadness: Only two of six legitimate children survived past childhood; his wife died young. Kalman doesn't speculate on the source of Jefferson's passion for the ideals of democracy and liberty yet conveys clearly his contribution to the growing nation as founding father and president. But this intriguing man was a slave owner and father to children whose mother and aunts were severely oppressed. Kalman's intimate address to listeners and readers works well here: A charming, earlier narrative acknowledgment that peas have their appeal (as they did for Jefferson the gardener) gives way to the thorny personal realization that someone admired fails profoundly to meet expectations: "Our hearts are broken," is stated flatly next to a ledger of payments to enslaved residents of Monticello. Impressive complexity put artfully and respectfully within the grasps of young readers. (Picture book/biography. 7-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780698150591
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: NOOK Kids
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 1,277,384
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
  • File size: 31 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Maira Kalman ( is the author-illustrator of numerous picture books, including Looking at Lincoln, Fireboat, Next Stop Grand Central, and What Pete Ate from A–Z, as well as adult hits such as And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Elements of Style Illustrated. She is also the illustrator of the Printz Honor Winning Book Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Her artwork has appeared on a dozen New Yorker covers, and her watches, clocks, accessories and paperweights have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art store. She lives in New York City.


Maira Kalman is an award-winning artist, illustrator, and product designer. She has illustrated numerous covers for The New Yorker magazine and has written and illustrated more than a dozen children's books. Her articles and illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Interview, and many other publications. Kalman has designed products for the Museum of Modern Art under the M&Co. label, fabric for Isaac Mizrahi, accessories for Kate Spade, and sets for Mark Morris Dance Group. A teacher of graduate design at the School of Visual Arts, she lives in New York with her two children and a dog.

Author biography courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Good To Know

Kalman told us that she is the co-founder of the Rubber Band Society, is looking for a job in a café, adores ping-pong, and is very, very neat.

"My short attention span has allowed me a life of diversity in work and place, Kalman explains. "I work for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications. I design products for The Museum of Modern Art. I design fabrics, and accessories for Kate Spade, fabric for Isaac Mizrahi."

"I travel as much as I can without being miserable from jet lag," she reveals. "I always remember that I don't really know what I am doing, and armed with that knowledge am very sure of myself."

Kalman reflects, "I consider my work to be about humor and love of life, and can do that when I am not terrified, which is often, but there you go."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 15, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tel Aviv, Israel
    1. Education:
      New York University, 1967-70
    2. Website:

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