Looking at Our Past Leaders as Election 2020 Approaches
Worst of Friends:
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud
By Suzanne Tripp Jurmain; illustrations by Larry Day
Just an update for my readers of The Snuggery; I wrote this review not quite four years ago as the 2016 election approached.
And, as I reread it today, not much has changed; in fact if anything, the media glare is white hot, as is the vitriol and venom on either side of the political spectrum.
And so, I decided to repost this blog. It has two Founding Fathers named Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who were fast friends at the outset, but had differing ideas on how a new nation should be.
They allowed their differences to drive a deep wedge in their friendship and a silence that lasted eleven years
Let young readers take hold of this book and its message of the respect that can arise out of differences and the cost of not allowing someone to have an opinion that differs from their own.
As we can see today in our cultural landscape, the price can be quite high.
Here is the post from 2016:
Here’s the long and the short of it – politics and friendship are sometimes a dicey proposition when mixed. Seen here in the often-stormy relationship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, this proved a case where differences in height were just the start of a match not made in heaven. In this presidential election year where national debates are televised and tempers flare because of differences in political ideology, it’s sort of a kick for kids to realize this is very familiar territory in the political arena.
Though it is enlarged and widely seen through the use of modern 24/7 media fed glare, it’s well for children to realize these political chasms of differing viewpoints are old hat when viewed through the delightful picture book, Worst of Friends.
The two intensely divergent viewpoints and personalities of Adams and Jefferson helped form a nation, though they could not see eye to eye literally or figuratively on the shape it should take.
After reading Worst of Friends, some kids will be amazed that they, in 2016, did not invent the concept of “You’re not my friend” or “I’m not talking to you.” It also came into full flower some 200 plus years ago with these two aforementioned political feuding friends. How’s this for different personalities:
Excitable John could talk for five hours straight without stopping. Quiet Tom sometimes didn’t say “three sentences together in public. They were as different as pickles and ice cream. But that didn’t matter because Tom and John were best friends. They walked together. They talked together. And, of course, they took care of each other.”
What could possibly drive these two perfect political pals apart? It’s a word starting with P and one of the two words it’s said friends should never discuss. Politics.
Ms. Jurmain has a great way of explaining how things between the two went swimmingly at first, what with noisy John leading the talking points for independence from England and shy Tom, terrific writer that he was, setting down on paper The Declaration of Independence telling King George what for. They were even in agreement on the insulting behavior of King George turning his back on the two during a ceremony at court!
Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Well almost, but with a bit of a fiery mix in the interim!
Seismic shivers shake the friendship as each has quite a different take on the shape of this new government, once it’s achieved.
John is all for bigger, stronger presidents who can take charge, defend the country’s laws and protect its freedoms. Tom is his polar opposite. Strong presidents might break the country’s laws, take away freedoms, and worse yet, try to be KING! Hey, even Jefferson himself once admitted, “Doubts often beget the facts they fear.”
Name-calling began and it wasn’t pretty. According to Tom, John was “vain, suspicious, irritable, stubborn and wrong.” John had a perfect comeback for that as he called Tom, “weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant”. Can you imagine the Facebook postings of these two today?
The feud was on. They ran against one another in 1800. Larry Day’s cartoon like drawings of John sneaking out of town on a 4:00 A.M. stagecoach before the swearing in of his old friend are wonderfully fresh and enhance this perfect mix of witty storytelling with important facts. Talk about a poor loser!
They each go their separate ways in high dudgeon; Tom to two terms as president and then to Virginia, while John stays in his Massachusetts farmhouse with wife Abigail. It’s a stalemate, right? The strength of Ms. Jurmain’s book is the intermixing of historical fact, with life lessons in the ongoing refusal of each to budge despite the ongoing entreaties of friends. Sound familiar to any of you? Perhaps this is even territory many kids have found themselves in at one time or other.
Kids we hope will take away from this book what really matters in a friendship as the two ultimately reconcile their differences and that is their agreement to disagree and the right to one’s opinion, however different.
Who takes the first step? Does it matter? Not really. The important thing is the beliefs they held in common, rather than what divided them.
I find it somehow touching they both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of American independence, these two great men who helped shape a great nation yet sharing differing views that made it stronger. That’s what people, I’m convinced, will choose to remember of these two men and what will endure; their individual legacies in our nation’s formation framed in this picture book’s uniquely honest take on the differences friends may have, superseded by a friendship forged in adversity and fueled by their commitment to a nation they willed to endure.
Don’t let your young reader miss this book and its impact in learning a life lesson. Isn’t it funny how outer man may change in attire and articulation, but the inner man remains in many ways the same?
It’s a look at two larger than life historical figures, flawed in many ways, who in their eagerness for a common cause toward an ideal they both believed in, almost lost a friendship forever during an eleven-year silence because of differences of opinion on how to achieve it.. Lesson taken.
The book is fresh, funny, factual and a winner!
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