I took out Farmer George Plants a Nation from the library last week. After hearing Peggy Thomas talk about her nonfiction writing a few months ago, I finally got around to checking out this book.
It is a nonfiction story about George Washington and his life as a farmer. It touches on his military endeavours and his role as the first President, but focuses mostly on his farming work. There is lots of information, including several pages of back matter for further learning, but it all is told as a flowing story. The artwork, by Layne Johnson, is stunningly gorgeous.
I read this to 5 year old Cedar, and while I did paraphrase some of the info, and gloss over other bits, he really liked it. He was intrigued by George's inventions and impressed by the huge farm plantation. As we read it, I let him exclaim about stuff, or ask questions, mostly letting him guide the depth at which we went through it. It also opened up a space for discussion about bigger things. Like war, slavery, and government. Discussion about those is limited with a 5 year old, but Cedar is an open and good listener, and I was able to tell him a little bit about what those things mean, and what I believe. I have no doubt we could read the story again and again, and he would learn a new fact, or the discussion would deepen as he grows. For a little kid, because there are wonderful images to look at, the story becomes more real, and he can grasp it more fully.
For an older kid in elementary school, or even middle school, this book becomes a history book. A 4th grader could extract the facts, but not feel bored by a lifeless colorless textbook. I really feel like this style of nonfiction picture book brings history to life for kids, in the best way possible.
In essence, this is what I want to make. Picture books that tell a real story, are creatively captured by art, and can be enjoyed by any age. It's a long process of working towards that, but I appreciate having a book like this that inspires.