cover image Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington

Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington

Anne Rockwell, , illus. by Matt Phelan. . Harcourt, $17 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-15-216583-3

Socially awkward children take heart: in his boyhood, the father of our country, says Rockwell (They Called Her Molly Pitcher ), “wasn’t afraid of bears, or wolves, or the native hunters with bows and arrows... of anything, except making conversation.” Her adulatory biography offers plenty for contemporary kids to connect with: her George Washington has a temper, dislikes the blood and gore of the battlefield and, even as a general, is the first to start digging trenches. But it’s Phelan’s (Very Hairy Bear ) extraordinary artwork that cements the bond with readers. As his pencil-and-gouache scenes review the events of Washington’s life up to the presidency, his scenes bristle with immediacy, dramatic tension and emotional insight. His fluid pictures impart the sense of vivid memories being conjured up, of history being re-lived in all its urgency and telling details. Audiences accustomed to visualizing Washington as the sphinx-like figure on the dollar bill will find Phelan’s dashing, steely portrait nothing short of revelatory. Ages 6–9. (Jan.)