Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain

Lynn: Jurmain opens her charming book, Worst of Friends:  Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud (Penguin/Dutton 2011) by asking a most intriguing question, “Can Presidents be pals?”  In many cases the answer was no.  “Theodore Roosevelt thought McKinley had the backbone of a chocolate eclair.”  But sometimes the answer was yes AND no.  Jurmain chronicles the on-again off again friendship of two of America’s most important men – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  They were incredibly different in almost every way from physique to personality to economic status.  “They were as different as pickles and ice cream” but their friendship was forged with their big ideas about American freedom and they remained best friends through until about 1790 when their friendship ran aground on how the new government should be run.  Their feud was a serious one and lasted through their presidential terms and into their retirements.  Finally in 1812, John picked up his pen and wrote to his old friend.  Their friendship happily resumed through a vibrant correspondence that lasted right up to the day they both died – July 4th, 1826.

Jurmain writes with a cheery informality that is completely engaging, making these two towering intellects thoroughly human.  Larry Day’s brightly humorous illustrations reinforce the tone wonderfully, helping children to understand the history is made by real people who do both ordinary as well as extraordinary things.  There is a lot of nicely related  history here too!  Kids may not realize it but they will learn quite a lot about some of the competing philosophies involved in the founding of this country.

This is one of those great books that can be used in so many ways in classrooms!  Terrific for elementary American history classes, and biography units, and just as valuable in middle schools as well.  Crank up that visual presenter and have fun!

Be sure to check out other Nonfiction Monday choices at Wendie’s Wanderings.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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