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Nonfiction Monday: Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley

Those Rebels, John & Tom
By Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Scholastic Press

ISBN: 9780545222686
Grades 2-4
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The message is important, sure, but the messenger is key. While the drama surrounding the creation of The Declaration of Independence is something that should have kids on the edge of their seats, it often comes across as another dull group of facts to remember. Leave it to Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham, the duo that brought us What to Do About Alice and The Extraordinary Mark Twain to frame this period of American history in a way that works for kids. Focusing on two of the key players in America’s fight for freedom, this is a book that classrooms (and young historians) should take a shine to.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were polar opposites. John was short, sturdy, and persuasive; Tom was tall, worldly, and quiet. But the things they had in common, a love of the American colonies and disdain for King George’s greedy policies towards them – would change the course of history. When a Continental Congress is called in the fall of 1774, both men take part. Playing to their strengths, Tom drafted what would become one of most important documents in history – the Declaration of Independence, while John gave the delegates a verbal work-over, building an important consensus. Document signed, a new nation was born.

In the publishing world, when it rains it pours. This is the second book in less than a month to focus on the important relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But where Suzanne Jurmain’s The Worst of Friends plays more on their feud and friendship, Those Rebels more narrowly hones in on their relationship in crafting the Declaration. The text is informal – it reads like someone telling an engaging story, not like a text book. Quotes are used well, adding clarity to the relationship of the two protagonists.

Well, it’s official – 2012 is the year I absolutely can’t tell digital illustrations from traditional media anymore. The artwork for Those Rebels is pure digital, but I would have never guessed. The linework gives the appearance of something crafted on paper. With bold reds, yellows, and navys, and minimal shading, the look is slightly retro.

A lively piece of picture book nonfiction that should be standard issue in classrooms and library collections.

Review copy from publisher

Be sure to check out the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Shelf-employed.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. … catching up on the last of the Nonfiction Monday posts. I just read this one as well. I think Barbara Kerley does a good job of explaining such a complex relationship in language that kids will understand. Nice to see John Adams getting some attention. TJ’s always been the star of the show!