Monday, April 23, 2012

Creepy Dolls: The Many Faces of George Washington

The next Cybils nonfiction finalist I read is The Many Faces of George Washington, by Carla McClafferty. This oversized book looks at the study follows two stories -- the history of George Washington and the attempt by modern historians to make him more relevant for today's Americans. When focus groups were asked to describe George, terms like "frumpy" and "boring" kept repeating, which shocked and horrified true Washington groupies.  To counter this perception, Mount Vernan researchers commission new dioramas that would feature astonishingly lifelike manikins portraying The Father of Our County as a sexy youth, a powerful general, and a dignified president.

Cybils2011-Web-ButtonBGMcClafferty then starts trading off between a traditional biography of Washington and following the creation of the figures matching each period of his life. The illustration show both scenes and souvenirs from his life and the processes used to replicate the clothes, hair, horses, and bone structure of his person at each stage. I found it easy reading, although sometimes the lifelike images seemed rather creepy. I couldn't interest either of the boys in the book though, not even the one forced to write a report on Washington. They couldn't get interested in how a frumpy green guy like Washington was replicated, which seemed like a chicken & egg problem -- the book was about how these dolls make Washington seem more vibrant and interesting, but their preconceptions held them back from finding out that they were wrong.  Also, they are lazy about reading nonfiction.


Books4Learning said...

Thank you for participating in NonFiction Monday. This topic sound interesting. So is the book proposing that the way we "see" GW is very different than what he was in real life? It is both fascinating and horrible the way the media and even historians are often VERY biased and present that view only to the populace. Whatever happened to being objective and letting us think for ourselves. I digress. :)

Fats Suela from Gathering Books said...

Hi Beth! While I am not too familiar with American History, I think that this book is a good start. I like the title and the idea behind the book. I'll be sure to check this one out in our library. THank you for sharing!

Beth said...

Yes, most people think of the portrait on the dollar bill, which was a picture he hated, done right after his last teeth fell out and he had gotten painful dentures, and of course, printed in green ink.

Washington was apparently very charismatic and active, especially during his youth, and without him many historians think the American Revolution would have gone very differently, and the country itself would have found great difficulty in settling afterward.

The downside is that if the kids aren't at least a little interested, the starting "hook" that Washington seems dull isn't enough to pull them in. So it's a good book for history buffs, but I couldn't test it on actual kids.