Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution

The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution

Dennis Brindell Fradin
Illustrator:  Michael McCurdy 
For ages 12 and up
Walker, 2005   ISBN: 0802789722

When it first came into being the United States was not in fact much of a united group of states at all. Each of the former thirteen colonies has their own laws, their own currency, and their own government. None of them were keen to pay the taxes that Congress asked for. The army was so small that it could do little when something went wrong.

Then a number of things did go wrong. In 1783 one hundred or so soldiers demanding their back pay caused a scene in Philadelphia, frightening congressmen so much that many of them ran away. Shay’s rebellion followed in 1786 and this event worried people a great deal. It became clear that the country had to put a system in place so that situations like the rebellion could be effectively dealt with. If the problem was not tackled soon then country would, as George Washington put it, fall into “anarchy and confusion.”

At a convention in May of 1787 the Continental Congress met and discussed what should be done. The Articles of Confederation were just too weak and it was decided to start from scratch. A new stronger document was needed and for four months the delegates at the convention labored, arguing back and forth about government, the creation of laws, and much more. Finally, after many changes and disagreements, the Constitution was signed by thirty-nine men on September 17th, 1787. There thirty-nine men came to be called the Founding Fathers and this book tells their stories.

The author begins with the story of John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware who was, at first, very reluctant to sever the relationship between America and Great Britain. Dickinson went on to write the first draft of the Articles on Confederation, and later he used his influence to make sure that Delaware and Pennsylvania were two of the first states to approve the Constitution.

Though the names of some of the signers will be familiar to readers (for example Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton) many will not. It is interesting to find out about these less famous men who took a big risk and who had the vision to see that the thirteen states could come together to form a powerful, enduring and meaningful country.

Readers who have an interest in the early history of the United States will be fascinated by this superbly written book. An excellent introduction helps readers understand why and how the Constitution came to be written. Next the stories of the Founding Fathers are presented in a state by state format. For each state the author gives his readers a brief history, a map, and a table of information about the delegates from that state. The stories of the delegates who signed the Constitution then follow. At the back of the book there is an afterword and the complete text of the Constitution.

Readers who enjoy this book might also like to read The Signers, which was also written by Dennis Brindell Fradin.