Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) Ages 5-8

c02-1                                                                                                                         A most amazing and prolific artist, Maira Kalman has written and illustrated eighteen books for children, produced two columns for The New York Times, numerous gorgeous covers for The New Yorker, and an opera. There are too many other accomplishments to name, but you can learn more here.


In honor of her recent books Ah-hA to Zig-Zag (for kids) and My Favorite Things (for adults), here are…

     MY favorite things about her book Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything—

  • The beginning sets the tone, alerting us that we will learn all manner of fascinating things about Thomas Jefferson, and in a playful way:  “Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), and he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third President of the United States.”


  • A powerful sense of place permeates this picture book bio centered on Jefferson’s beloved home Monticello. The house was a “MUSEUM of his MIND” illustrating his intellect and curiosity. His bed was situated with two sides open—one to his study with his rotating book stand (“He loved books.”) and the other side with boots waiting by the door to outside.


  • Reading of Jefferson’s long, productive life and his healthy habits way ahead of the times, I could not help but think of the book The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (National Geographic, 2008, 2012).         Author Dan Buettner explored the world and observed the lifestyle habits of people in the Blue Zones (home to the globe’s longest lived people): Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece
  • “As Jefferson got older, he spent more time outdoors. He no longer cared for fancy clothes. His torn jacket was repaired with socks. He carried a penknife with many tools, and would spend many hours riding his horse or walking through his garden and land.” In The Blue Zones, Buettner shares tips we can all incorporate into our lives—including “move naturally” and “plant a garden.” Jefferson was devoted to walking and to his garden.
  • Peas were a favorite food and Jefferson “thought vegetables should be the main course and meat a side dish.” This mirrors The Blue Zones recommendation—“Plant Slant.” (Limit meat, eat 4-6 servings of veg a day.) Kalman’s exuberant paintings make even veggies appeal to kids. (Here is a New York Times article about Blue Zones eating habits.)


  • In Ikaria “…the notion of ‘ikigai’…the reason for which you wake up in the morning…imbues people’s entire adult lives.” Other Blue Zones embrace similar notions, as did Thomas Jefferson, and author Buettner advises us to learn something new—a language or music. Jefferson practiced his violin three hours a day, indulged his passion for his garden and “he still read many books (his books were the beginning of the Library of Congress) and founded a university. There was always much to be done.” The University of Virginia was founded just seven years before he died in 1826.


  • Yes, he was America’s third President and he wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, AND he also had wisdom to share—“…good advice about being mad. ‘When you are ANGRY, count TEN Before you SPEAK; if VERY ANGRY, to 100.’”


  • Author/illustrator Maira Kalman does not gloss over the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner and it is believed he had children with his slave Sally Hemings after his wife died. This lovely book ends with “If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be OPTIMISTIC and COMPLEX and TRAGIC and WRONG and COURAGEOUS, you need to go to Monticello.”


  • Activities for children—Open the topic of enjoying a long life using this book and other Positive Aging picture books. See if kids can identify the activities Jefferson pursued for decades and what sense of purpose drove him. Take a peek into the long and interesting life of author/illustrator Maira Kalman on her website and ask child readers to share a current interest they might continue into old age. Learn more about U.S. history and Jefferson in the extensive back notes and check out the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.


  • Adults—Indulge yourself by admiring Maira Kalman’s gorgeous New Yorker covers! Think about new and fascinating pursuits to take up in your Third Age, and read about my friend and mentor Jan Hively, aged 83, “the serial entrepreneur,” recently featured at Check out the National Center for Creative Aging.


I reviewed a copy from my library. (But think I need to own it!)

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11 Responses to Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

  1. Love, love, LOVE, Maira’s work!!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. My kind of book! I love historical fiction PBs. But, Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorite founding fathers. So colorful. Great post!

  3. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    I don’t think she sleeps—ever. Wonderful quote: “a museum of the mind.” Awesome!

  4. Wonderful post! Optimistic, complex, tragic, wrong, courageous. So well put.

  5. this looks like a marvelous book – I am such a fan of TJ; must have this book!

  6. Susan Adcox says:

    Everyone needs to go to Monticello! But this is a good starting place for youngsters. And I know grandparents will enjoy it as much as the grandkids.

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