Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word

Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word

Sarah Jane Marsh
Illustrator:  Edwin Fotheringham 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Disney-Hyperion, 2018   ISBN: 978-1484781449

Thomas Paine was born into a poor English family. His father was a corset-maker, and being a man of humble means it was not expected that he would be able to educate his son. However, somehow he managed to scrape together enough money to be able to send Thomas to school when the boy was seven. For five wonderful years Thomas soaked up words and numbers, ideas and stories. He loved it all. Then, when he was twelve, he was removed from school and he was put to work in his father’s shop.

For seven years Thomas did his duty and worked as his father’s assistant, but eventually the call of the sea became too strong, and when he was nineteen he sailed away on a ship that was going to war.

After six months Thomas decided that reading about battles at sea and participating in them were two very different things. He moved to London and decided to “pursue a safer form of adventure – learning.” The problem was that Thomas wasn’t able to do this for long. Eventually his savings were used up and he had to get back to working for a living.

For ten long years things did not go very well for Thomas. Eventually he got a job as a tax collector in Lewes, he got married, and he had a happy and fulfilling social life. He joined a club where the members “debated the issues of the day” and Thomas discovered that he had a gift for presenting his ideas in a public setting. Indeed, he had such a gift for words that he wrote a request to ask Parliament for better pay and working conditions for tax collectors.

Thomas then hit another rough patch. He lost his job, his money, and his wife, and he had to start all over. Again. Luckily he met an American called Benjamin Franklin. Franklin clearly liked Thomas, because he gave the Englishman a letter of recommendation, and with this in hand Thomas set off for America.

On arriving in America he discovered that the country was full of people talking about freedom. They spoke about how the new laws being put in place by England’s Parliament were depriving them of their liberties. It was heady stuff and it wasn’t long before Thomas was in the thick of things. He never imagined when he first arrived in America that he would produce a document that would really get people talking, that in America “his words made a difference.”

This excellent biography describes the life of a most remarkable man. Young readers will get a sense of what Thomas Paine was like, and they will come to appreciate what his times were like and how much he influenced those times. Thomas’ own words are found woven in throughout the narrative, and at the back of the book the author provides readers with further information about Thomas and world he lived in.