I Am George Washington, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
This is a book that simultaneously comments on Parson Weems and even seems to channel it for itself. Parson Weems, of course, is the writer who was famous for creating the myth of George Washington and the apple tree that was used during the 19th century and beyond as an example of our first president’s honesty and moral rectitude, but this author, in commenting about the myth, should probably have been more charitable as he is no more competent as a historian writing to children. At the very least, though, this particular book is an enjoyable one and it manages to capture at least a good bit of what made Washington so noteworthy. It must be admitted, though, that this novel does a great bit of airbrushing, and it can certainly be considered a hagiography that demonstrates the sorts of things that the author considers inappropriate for children to focus on if they are to respect George Washington. We know that the author respect the man because of his other works involving the Culver ring, which are referred to at least briefly here, to demonstrate his skill in spycraft. However, there is much more that this author leaves out of great importance.
The author begins, as is common in this series, in the childhood of George Washington, particularly in the way that he respected his big brother, who raised him after the early death of their father. He also shows the importance of the Fairfaxes as a elite family to help teach him some of the decorum needed to be a member of the Tidewater elite. The author talks about his surveying, his participation in Braddock’s invasion of Western Pennsylvania, his early efforts at colonial politics, and his choice as the leader of the Continental Army, along with his role in helping craft the Constitution and serve as the first president under its terms. The author makes a great deal of Washington’s willingness to step away from power, something that separates the rule of law of the United States from the behavior of more corrupt nations. Like many other volumes of this series, there is an item that appears more than once, but unlike the penny or the Brooklyn Dodgers cap of previous volumes, it happens to be his false teeth, which make for a rather unpleasant reminder of life in the past when dental care was not so advanced as it is today.
What is missing from this book, though, is nearly as important as what is stated. The author neglects to mention Lawrence’s death that left him bereft of his model when he was still a young man. It does not comment upon the land speculation that was included with the surveying that Washington chose as a profession. (Incidentally enough, it was Lincoln’s refusal to profit from such speculation as a land surveyor himself that earned him the nickname Honest Abe.) Nor does the author focus on the events of Ft. Necessity that led to his surrender to the French before Braddock’s campaign, nor his marriage of the wealthy widow Martha Custis, nor his role as a slaveowner as a member of Virginia’s elite, nor his important Farewell Address with its caution against entangling foreign alliances. As is quite common in such matters, the author picks and chooses what he wants to use to support the points he is trying to make and neglects a lot that is important to understanding him in his context. Even so, despite these serious omissions, this book is still better than many of the other volumes in this series because it is at least patriotic, an that is something.