HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: George Washington’s World
Author and Illustrator: Genevieve Foster
Publisher: Beautiful Feet Books, expanded edition 1997
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 7-10
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Foster, Genevieve. George Washington’s World (published in 1941 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York City, NY). This book is not a biography on George Washington, although the same author did write a biography of Washington which was a Newbery Honor Book in 1950. Rather George Washington’s World, which was a 1942 Newbery Honor Book, is a history told in time slices using the life of George Washington, who was born in 1732 and died in 1799, as an outline. It is similar to her Abraham Lincoln’s World which was a Newbery Honor Book in 1945. Genevieve Foster is a great story teller who is easy and fun to read because she does an awesome job of pulling in the children and making history interesting. The tone and feel is that of a journey through the 18th century. The book is divided into six segments when Washington was a boy, a soldier, a farmer, a commander, a common citizen, and finally a President. The people that are covered include Washington of course, Daniel Boone, John Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin West, Ben Franklin, Junipero Serra, Frederick of Prussia, Johann Sebastian Bach, Catherine the Great of Russia, Louis XV of France, Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Chien Lung of China, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, King George III, and many more. There are also events such as the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the invention of the hot air balloon, and others discussed, all told in understandable story form.
Some people don’t like the book. One critic wrote, “I just wish some of the subject matter wasn’t so inaccurate’….Frederick ‘The Great’ was the first instance of frustration for me. They portray this greedy warmonger as almost an idol to be looked up to….Same with Napoleon….The second instance of frustration (which is a huge part of the 2nd half of the book) was the positive portrayal of Voltaire and the French Revolution.” Of course, these are important historical persons and events which deserve to be covered. Yet, Frederick the Great is not portrayed as an idol but as a man “with a heart turned to steel” who was “ruthless.” Of Napoleon, it is said, “All he fought for in either case was the glory of Napoleon Bonaparte.” And concerning the French Revolution, rather than a positive picture, the September Massacre is called the “wholesale murder of nobles and aristocrats,” and reference is made to “the tyranny of the mob.” Another complaint was that “This book is poorly written with bad grammar and run-on sentences.” I didn’t notice run-on sentences, but I did see a lot of sentence fragments; I think that Foster was trying to write in a leisurely, conversational style for children.
A new, expanded edition by Genevieve Foster’s daughter Joanna Foster in 1997 incorporates new material, especially in the areas of women’s history, African-American history, and Native American history. The book is definitely Eurocentric, focusing on Europe, especially France, and the United States, but it does, in some instances, bring in other countries, like India and China in particular, and discuss other internationally significant events, such as the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in Egypt. One reviewer noted, “Students will find the information they know about the Revolutionary War and George Washington greatly enhanced, and more importantly, placed in context, by the author’s global perspective of the 18th Century. Virtually all students and most history teachers, among whom I number myself, know much about the Revolutionary period but have little knowledge of the world events that came to produce the climate and individuals that moved the American experiment forward.” Pictures and diagrams make the book even more interesting. So if anyone is looking for a book that opens up the world view of the 1700’s, then this is it. Genevieve Foster also wrote a 1953 Newbery Honor Book, Birthdays of Freedom, Vol. 1.