Wednesday, February 16, 2022

True History: The Founders Unmasked

Sabin, Jennifer. The Founders Unmasked (True History #1)
February 15th 2022 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I feel that there will be a lot of reviews that consider this in terms of its politics rather than its inherent merits. Those on the political right might be upset by its frank discussions of the problematic history of the US, and those on the left might feel that the subject was treated too lightly.

First of all, the cover illustration and paperback format lead me to think that this would be a graphic novel exploration of the Founders, with an emphasis on history that had been ignored. It is not. It is a regular narrative nonfiction book, 144 pages long, with 8 pages of color plates. These seem to be mainly portraits of the presidents, but my e reader kept crashing, so there could be other pictures. There are some side bar explanations, as well as discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Additional readings are listed at the end.

The book itself states (and this is uncorrected text from a E ARC) that "The Founders Unmasked sets out NOT to rewrite history but to collect some of the existing facts and growing body of evidence that paint a more honest picture than US kids are usually taught about the men we call Founding Fathers." The chapters cover a lot of information, but centers on the following figures: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Douglas, George Washington, and James Madison. Focusing on these historical figures, a wide range of topics are explored.

In the Sally Hemings chapter, there is a lot of discussion about concubines, age of consent during her time period (ten!), the nature of relationships between figures like Jefferson and enslaved women like Hemings, and the widespread rape of young women. While this is done extremely delicately, this deep dive into troubling topics might make this a book more suitable for students in 8th grade and up. While it is valuable information, I am always aware that some students need help processing troubling information, and I am not always able to provide the support that they might need. It is just good to be aware of this information so that you can gauge which students would best be able to handle it. This series is specifically marketed to students aged 10-17, which is a range of ages that covers a varying degree of maturity. Some students will be ready for this book, and some will need some support while reading it.

I feel a need to explain the three star rating on Goodreads very clearly, since (as I previously noted) many reviews might base ratings on the politics of this book rather than the content. While the content of this book is certainly innovative and important (and also derived from many modern historical experts who have not been represented in the textbooks with which young readers are familiar), the format of the book is somewhat lacking. Three stars on Goodreads means "I liked it". This was a fantastic expose of history, but it was presented in a very standard way. It would have been helpful to have more illustrations accompany different sections of the book. Because so many important topics are being discussed, including the impact on current events by how history has been portrayed, the narrative sometimes went from topic to topic and felt a bit unfocused. High school readers will not have trouble with this, but middle school readers would do better with slightly narrower topics and fewer asides.

This is the first book in the True History series ( that also includes books about A New History of Immigration, The Legacy of Jim Crow, and Indigenous America. It was a well researched book with a lot of thought provoking topics that will be welcome by some and not welcome by others.

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