Book Review: The Declaration of Independence

Reading Level

Ages 7-12

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• The Bill of Rights

• The Constitution • The Emancipation Proclamation

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Most American schoolchildren know all about Thomas Jefferson and his famous "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Most young readers also know all about John Hancock and how he signed his name so big on that Declaration of Independence, which contained Jefferson's famous phrase and so many others. What most readers—young and old—don't know is the rest of what is in that Declaration and what it means.

That's where Judith Lloyd Yero comes in. This distinguished author fills in the gaps, with facts, context, and analysis. The result is quite a history lesson, one that is as vivid in its writing as it is fun to read.

The book also contains a few items of trivia of which most Americans might not be aware, including:

  • Benjamin Franklin was on the drafting committee of the Declaration, along with Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston;
  • Firebrand and Sons of Liberty leader Samuel Adams, who protested so much against the Tea Tax and other taxes, used to be a tax collector;
  • Caesar Rodney chose signing the Declaration over going to a London hospital to get treatment for skin cancer;

The author does an excellent job of placing the writing, debating, and signing of the Declaration in the overall context of the going-on in Colonial America at the time. The account of the Revolutionary War overall is rather slim, but that is not the focus of this book.

What follows the discussion of the end of that war, however, is definitely a bit jarring. The author goes on to discuss the civil rights and women's suffrage movements, with not so much as a healthy transition. Lots of history came in between July 4, 1776, and the beginnings of these other two movements, yet they read in this book like they happened one right after the other (at least to younger eyes and minds). As such, the discussions seem rather tacked-on. The attempt at placing the Declaration of Independence in the overall context of the struggle for certain "inalienable" rights doesn't really work here. The book would have ended just fine with the ending of the Revolutionary War.

Overall, though, it is a solid book. Welcome additions at the back of the book are Jefferson's rough draft, with the differences between it and the final Declaration highlighted for easy comparison, and a list of the signers of the famous document.

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