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Summer has arrived! A season filled with various celebrations of America’s birth and history and also a time when Summer Reading programs appear. Various locations such as Chuck E Cheese, Barnes & Noble, and local libraries offer redeemable rewards for books read. We recently had the opportunity to review a fascinating book that can tie these two summertime activities together.

Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word, while lengthy at 80 pages, held my nine-year-old son’s attention and sparked a lively discussion on the power of opinion writing and the value of open debate. The illustrations of Edwin Fotheringham helped transport us to Revolutionary War era in a way that was relatable and engaging rather than antiquated and distant.

Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word

Paine was born in a historical era where children were often kept at the family business, in his case being a corset maker. The book shares his desire for a different path and the decisions he made to bring that about. It doesn’t shy away from presenting his failures including his financial ruin and the resulting dissolution of his marriage before he made his way from England to the Colonies where he published the powerful pamphlet, Common Sense that helped thrust conversations of American independence out from the shadows.

Author Sarah Jane Marsh beautifully demonstrates Paine’s tremendous gift of writing by pulling in Paine’s own words along with the picture book text throughout her retelling. Her background as an educator shows through in her ability to bring history to life and connect this early American story with a modern audience and in the amazing resources she provides at the book’s conclusion including a listing of source notes for the quotations sprinkled in the story. I greatly appreciated this and the various other appendices including a couple of brief epilogues to Paine’s life highlighting his American Crisis essay written to encourage Americans during the battles with England, a look at his later years and his legacy including his impact on other historical and modern American figures as they aided me in answering questions my son had at the book’s conclusion and sparked us to further investigate his life. You can also find a timeline of events in Paine’s life from birth to death along with a bibliography and suggested websites making it an excellent beginning point for students looking to compose their own report on Thomas Paine.

In Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word, Sarah Jane Marsh (in her debut title) beautifully demonstrates the life lessons of perseverance, courage and the power of the written word in retelling his story and demonstrates why as presented on the book jacket Abraham Lincoln has said, “I never tire of reading Paine.” As a result, this is one I’d recommend adding to your child’s summer reading list.

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