Today, February 22nd, is George Washington’s birthday and what better way to celebrate our forefather who could not tell a lie, than with a “mostly true” and yet entirely amusing picture book. Margaret McNamara’s George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is a fresh and funny relief from stale biographies about historical figures that children are forced to read for school. Instead, McNamara, with help from witty illustrator Barry Blitt, best known for his satirical New Yorker covers, offer a story about a 7-year-old boy who thinks his family has forgotten his birthday. A story many young and birthday conscious readers can relate and aspire to, because this particular 7-year-old happens to grow up to be the first president of United States. And, humorously, no one will forget his birthday now that it’s a national holiday.
McNamara and Blitt cleverly play with fact and fiction throughout the book. McNamara weaves in familiar facts and legends about George Washingon, such as the story of the cherry tree and throwing a stone all the way across the Rappahannock river. Little asides on each page act as disclaimers, telling readers what is fact and what is myth, offering insight and often more detail about George Washington’s bright future. Blitt’s illustrations play off of these facts and myths. Where a factoid states that George Washington never wore a wig, he puts the 7-year-old in a white wig which comically shifts and falls on in various states of the boy’s activities.
The text and illustrations are packed with little nuances of humor for the reader to pick up on. Sometimes subtle, like when George mutters under his breath, calling his older half brother “a tyrant” to other times being a bit more blatantly funny, such as the headlines in the newspaper that George’s father reads: “Cherry Tree Mystery Solved” and “Don’t Axe Don’t Tell Repealed.” Perhaps my favorite illustration is the hilarious one on the back cover of an older and more familiar looking George Washington wearing a party hat, blowing a party horn. Party on, George.
Adults and children alike will appreciate the different levels of humor in this book, while learning facts and debunking popular myths. If you’re interested in hearing illustrator Barry Blitt talk a bit about the book, he was interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air recently. You can listen online here.
Our gratitude to author Margaret McNamara who is donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to The Carle Museum. A reason to party, indeed. Pick up your copy online here.