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Washington Is Burning

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
This book recounts a major event of the War of 1812 from the point of view of teenage African American slave Paul Jennings, a personal servant to President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison. The story tells of his experiences from late August to mid-September 1814, climaxing on August 24, when the White House was evacuated and the British set fire to the city of Washington. The book does not try to do an overview of the entire war, though it does offer simple background information. Instead, this book brings one important episode vividly to life, in language children can read themselves. The text includes Paul's observations of the White House interior, details of his domestic chores, and eventually descriptions of his efforts and Dolley Madison's efforts to save various items from the house, including the portrait of George Washington and the White House silver. An "Afterword" includes fascinating information about the life of Paul Jennings, a real historical figure who gained his freedom as an adult and wrote a memoir of life with the Madisons. The book combines his account with accounts of the same events recorded by Dolley Madison and another White House servant. Students may be confused at some points by references to the first lady as "Dolley" and "Mrs. Madison" on the same page. An editorial choice was made to start each sentence flush with the page margin instead of using indents and paragraphs; sentences are short and easy to understand. Engaging illustrations dramatize and complement the text. The title is part of the "On My Own" series of history books from this publisher. 2006, Millbrook Press, Ages 6 to 10.
—J. H. Diehl
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Washington describes the burning of the White House as seen through the eyes of President Madison's slave, 15-year-old Paul Jennings. The account unfolds chronologically during August and September 1814. A brief, vague explanation for the presence of British soldiers is given. Dialogue, thoughts, and other events are compiled from cited, primary sources written by Jennings; French John, the head servant; and First Lady Dolley Madison. Notable for telling a historical event from the viewpoint of a slave, the book fails to show the nature of slavery objectively. Whereas the afterword reveals that Dolley Madison sold Jennings after her husband's death, the story's illustrations depict Jennings as equal to employee French John rather than as property. Jennings wears fine clothes, speaks freely to the First Lady, and appears to have unlimited access to the President's home. In contrast, Juneteenth shows the relief of slaves in Galveston, TX, when freedom was proclaimed, emphasizing that slaves were not ordinary workers but forced laborers. The description of slavery is brave in its honesty, difficult to read but necessary to understand. The Civil War and President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation are also included, but the emphasis remains on the news of freedom--it traveled slowly, was heard with disbelief, and was celebrated on June 19, 1865, with picnics, song, and parades. The book concludes by describing modern Juneteenth celebrations and remembrances across the country. Realistic paintings in vibrant colors illustrate these easy readers.-Julie R. Ranelli, Episcopal Center for Children, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822560500
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Series: On My Own History Ser.
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 686,287
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2006

    Washington Is Burning

    This is a very well-written, beautifully illustrated book about the burning of Washington by the British during the War of 1812. It is told from the perspective of Paul Jennings, President Madison's personal valet and slave. The book's particular value is in showing how young Paul had real decisions to make, even though he was a slave. The book ends with the return of Presdient Madison to Washington and the beginning efforts to rebuild the city. It would be good for a class to read this book in conjunction with one about the American victory at Fort McHenry in Baltimore and the Stars Spangled Banner. The writer's notes at the end of the book reveal that as an adult Paul Jennings was a very accomplished person who wrote the first White House memoire and was a conspirator in the mass slave escape on the Pearl (the largest slave escape in Washington's history). It mentions that Paul was sold by Dolly Madison, and then bought his own freedom. The writer's note does not mention that Dolly sold Paul to Daniel Webster, the famous New England congressman and orator.

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