Book Review: Servant to Abigail Adams

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books in This Series

• On the Eve of Revolution
• Our Journey West
• Yankee Blue Or Rebel Gray?
• Escape to Freedom
• Cowboys on the Western Trail
• When the Mission Padre Came to the Rancho
• We Came Through Ellis Island
• Hoping for Rain

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This great little book is part of National Geographic's fun, educational new I Am American series. Each book of this series is a historical fiction portrait of a few years in the life of a young American at pivotal times during the nation's history. In this case, the focus is on 13-year-old Hannah Cooper, who is a servant to the First Lady when John Adams is president.

As with other books in this series, the device of letters and diary entries to move the story forward works exceedingly well. The reader has the sense of learning from an array of sources, not just recitations of facts and figures. (The author, Kate Connell, also wrote another book in this series: Yankee Blue or Rebel Gray?)

Hannah is the main character, and we learn a great deal of information from her about life at the White House (which was new to the presidency beginning with the very end of Adams's term), in Philadelphia (which was the nation's capital for awhile), and in the often harsh political environment that was still boiling over at this point in American history. Hannah is on the White House staff and knows President Adams, a Federalist, very well, so her inclination is to side with the Federalists in the political discussions of the day. Her brother, 16-year-old Daniel, is an ardent supporter of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson.

Daniel works as a printer's apprentice, meaning that he works long hours and is on the forefront of political discussion (since newspapers were the main vehicle for such discussion back then). Daniel works for a newspaper that supports the Democratic-Republican Party, which is finding its views unpopular and possibly illegal as a result of the controversial Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government. Daniel's insertion into the politically charged atmosphere makes this sometimes confusing period in history easily accessible, not only to younger readers but also to their older relatives and teachers. Political arguments were much in vogue at this time, and Daniel and Hannah have a handful themselves, as Daniel tries to convince Hannah that his republican ideals are better for the country while Hannah tries to convince Daniel that President Adams isn't as mean or ignorant as Daniel's and other newspapers make him out to be.

Hannah's diary entries also serve to illuminate this period in social history, as she writes about the clothes people wear, they food they eat, and the way they act. She also reveals that ex-presidents weren't taken care of nearly as well as they are today by describing that Abigail Adams's meals back at the family home in Quincy, Mass., are simple and inexpensive, all that they can afford.

This book also includes one of American history's most fascinating episodes: the disputed election of 1800, decided in the House of Representatives on the 36th ballot. The result was a new president of a new political party, proving that elective government could work and that violence would not be the result.

Through the eyes of young Hannah Cooper, we learn all this and much more. Young girls and boys will enjoy this book, as will adults. The details can certainly be appreciated by all ages.

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David White