Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

by Barb Rosenstock (Author) John O'Brien (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
As soon as Thomas Jefferson learned to read, he found his passion: books, books, and more books! Before, during, and after the American Revolution, Jefferson collected thousands of books on hundreds of subjects. In fact, his massive collection eventually helped rebuild the Library of Congress--now the largest library in the world. Barb Rosenstock's rhythmic words and John O'Brien's whimsical illustrations capture Jefferson's passion for the written word as well as little-known details about book collecting. Author and artist worked closely with experts to create the first picture book on Jefferson's love of reading, writing, and books. An author's note, bibliography, and source notes for quotations are also included.
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Publishers Weekly

Thomas Jefferson "gobbled books the way a starving man eats." Rosenstock's (The Camping Trip That Changed America) apt metaphor sets the tone for this jaunty picture-book biography of the third U.S. president. Following Jefferson's birth in 1743 to his restocking of the Library of Congress in 1815, the playful narrative ("While at college, he read fifteen hours a day. Guess what he started collecting?!") complements even more playful illustrations. O'Brien's (Look... Look Again!) dynamic ink-and-watercolor illustrations show the redheaded leader in perpetual motion around books, exaggerating his hobby to humorous effect. Jefferson stacks tomes on his mantel in the shape of the word "books" or reads several books at once by swinging from a trapeze. Pointillist dots overlay the artwork, texturing O'Brien's pictures with a mottled look. Readers' eyes will dart among several scenes in each spread, the busy layout giving a sense of Jefferson's full education-driven life. Appearing on nearly every page are images of small, open books that provide further biographical facts and quotations. Author notes and a bibliography wrap up a lively peek at a literature-loving political giant. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)

Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-5—It is no small feat to entertain children in a book about loving books (an increasingly crowded shelf), but this duo succeeds admirably through well-chosen facts, staggering statistics, an interactive text, and humor. Readers glimpse Jefferson's childhood, adolescence, fatherhood, and presidency through his obsession with reading. There is levity and energy in O'Brien's ink and watercolor scenes. Jefferson's horse has a book-shaped saddle; young Tom fiddles while reading the music from a book mounted to the bridle. There is also sadness, when Jefferson reads to his wife on her deathbed. The full-spread compositions are supplemented by insets shaped like open books that contain quotes by or about Jefferson and his times or interests. In one, a slave remembers that his master might have 20 books surrounding him on the floor. Another describes his revolving bookstand holding five volumes, so he "never needed to stop writing to read or stop reading to write." Rosenstock details the man's substantial and ongoing involvement in developing and contributing to the national library. The final scene shows Jefferson opening a large book portraying modern and Colonial visitors mingling at the Library of Congress; a minor disappointment is that O'Brien drew generic bookcases instead of the splendid reading room. An author's note adds more information, including context for the fact that the author of the Declaration of Independence owned about 600 enslaved individuals throughout his life. This is a unique portrayal of the life and passions of the third president.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library

Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

This attractive picture book uses Thomas Jefferson's love of reading and collecting books as a lens through which to view the story of his life. . . An informative author's note rounds out this appealing introduction to Jefferson. —Booklist

This unusual picture-book biography fosters a new understanding of Thomas Jefferson's life as viewed through his love of books and its impact on our burgeoning nation. . .Sure to be enjoyed, this is an engaging study of one of our Founding Father's great legacies. —Kirkus Reviews

It is no small feat to entertain children in a book about loving books (an increasingly croweded shelf), but this duo succeeds admirably through well-chosen facts, staggering statistics, an interactive text, and humor. . . This is a unique portrayal of the life and passions of the third president. —School Library Journal

Jefferson's well-documented obsession with books—reading, recommending, lending, gifting, and collecting—gets the picture-book treatment in this chatty biography that describes the journey of Jefferson's collection from private stash to the basis of the Library of Congress. . . —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Barb Rosenstock
BARB ROSENSTOCK is the author of the Caldecott Honor Book The Noisy Paint Box, also illustrated by Mary GrandPré, as well as The Camping Trip that Changed America, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, and Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith, illustrated by Scott Dawson. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband, sons, and two big poodles. Visit her at or @barbrosenstock.

MARY GRANDPRÉ is best known as the illustrator of the Harry Potter books. She also illustrated the Caldecott Honor Book The Noisy Paint Box, as well as The Carnival of the Animals, written by Jack Prelutsky, and Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat by Jennifer Armstrong, amongst many others. Visit her at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Calkins Creek Books
Publication date
September 20, 2013
BISAC categories
JNF025190 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/Colonial & Revolutionary
JNF007130 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Presidents & First Families (U.S.)
JNF063000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Books & Libraries
Library of Congress categories
United States
Books and reading
Jefferson, Thomas
Book collecting
Thomas Jefferson Library Collection (Library

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