Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Those Rebels, John and Tom

Those Rebels, John and Tom

Barbara Kerley
Illustrator:  Edwin Fotheringham 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Scholastic Press, 2012   ISBN: 978-0545222686

As adults, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stood together to fight for what they thought was right, and a friendship grew out of their alliance. When their new nation, the United States of America, became a reality, they eventually found themselves on opposite sides of the new political spectrum, and their friendship faltered. Thankfully, in 1812, John wrote a letter to Tom to try to repair their friendship, and soon the two old gentlemen were writing to one another regularly, which they continued to do until the day that died, July 4th, 1826

   In a way it was rather surprising that the two men became friends in the first place. Their backgrounds were very different, with Tom being born into a wealthy family, and John being born into a life where money was not plentiful. Happy-go-lucky John happily skipped school at every opportunity, while Tom was a born scholar, preferring to spend his days indoors to study, read, and play the violin.

   Tom was a quiet fellow and when he grew up he hated public speaking, which was very inconvenient because he was a lawyer and needed to talk in court.  John also became a lawyer but he loved to talk and eagerly debated with others. Though they were both lawyers, the men lived very different lives and had very different interests. Under normal circumstances they probably would never have met, but when England’s King George began to make unfair demands of his American subjects, the two men both felt that those demands were unreasonable and they independently decided that something had to be done.

   War broke out between the United States and Great Britain in the spring of 1775, and in May delegates from the colonies gathered in Philadelphia to manage the war and to work out how they would declare their country’s independence from Great Britain. Tall, elegantly dressed Tom and short, plainly dressed John did not connect much at first. John talked at length, while Tom did not say a word. Then Tom was asked to “justify why Americans were taking up arms,” and using his weapon of choice, his pen, he “lunged, parried, and skewered the policies of King George and his government.” John realized then that Tom had hidden depths and the two men began to become friends.

    Then the delegates decided that they needed to craft a declaration announcing America’s independence, and John was sure that Tom was the man for the job. Tom got to work writing, and his voluble friend who liked a good fight, set about working on the delegates to make sure that they all voted in favor of independence. John got his vote, and Tom’s document was edited and then signed by all the delegates. The two men, in their own ways, helped to build a new nation.

   In this wonderful book, expressive illustrations are paired with a rousing text to bring the stories of two of America’s founders to life. Carefully chosen quotes from letters and writings punctuate the text, helping us see how the two men felt and thought.

   At the back of the book the author provides her readers with further information about John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and their often unusual relationship.