The Smithsonian’s book publishing side, Smithsonian Books, recently published the third book in their Secret Smithsonian Adventures comic book series for kids. This one is called It’s Treason, by George!, written by Chris Kientz and Steve Hockensmith, and illustrated by Lee Nielsen. I found it a timely and quality read, giving kids a closer look into our nation’s history.
What are the series and this book about?
Four middle school classmates, Eric, Dominique, Ajay, and Josephine, are guided by a mysterious character and a computer in their travels through time, correcting problems with history that are created by a bad guy named Gould. The first two books in the series tackled the Wright Brothers and the history of flight, and dinosaurs and the 1876 Philadelphia Expedition. Now, in this third installment, the four friends travel back to the early days of the United States to right a wrong made on George Washington’s timeline. They must correct history and avert disaster when Gould turns the country into a monarchy and dictatorship! What would happen if George Washington never resigned his military commission and an evil version of him became ruler of the country for life? What if he forced everyone to be loyal without question? Will the kids help turn the country back into a republic? Will Ajay ever get to eat? You’ll need to read the book to find out.
Major historical players in this story include George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Oney “Ona” Judge, an enslaved person from the Washington household. Each of them plays an important role in thwarting Gould’s dastardly historical deeds. The book also includes quotes from Washington’s original speech giving up his military commission, and it highlights the painting by John Trumbull of Washington resigning from the military. In the book, Washington also emphasizes that our country needs a constitution that frees the people, not forces them to pledge loyalty to an individual. This is ironic, due to Washington’s stance on slavery, but that contradiction is addressed in the book as well, probably generating more questions than it answers. The last page of the book goes into some background and what came next for the major historical characters in the book, as well as the historical context and importance of the book’s events.
In each book of the series, the characters end up visiting one of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums in Washington, D.C. In this book, they end up at my favorite of the museums, the National Museum of American History. Though they don’t spend much time at the museum, it was fun for me to be reminded of some of the important collections that it maintains.
Since each of the books in the series has connected with the next, I highly recommend reading all of them in order. Start with The Wrong Wrights, then read Claws and Effect, and finish with It’s Treason, by George! (I’m sure there will be other books in the series as well!) Not only does the action in the books go in sequence in the kids’ lives, but the characters make reference to previous events, and it will make more sense if they’re read together in order. The books don’t go into incredible depth regarding the historical events and time periods they cover, but they do scratch the surface enough for kids to ask deeper questions and stimulate more in-depth study.
How can I share this book with my kids?
Before you read through this book with your kids, make sure they know the basics of the founding of the United States. Go over who George Washington was, what it meant to be an enslaved person, and how a republic differs from a monarchy or dictatorship. Next, read the book and discuss the issues and questions that come up. Talk about how Washington felt strongly about establishing a form of government that was unlike a monarchy, what it meant to try to escape slavery, and what our country would have been like if Washington had been a monarch or a dictator, instead of resigning from the presidency after two terms. Discuss how the book calls out some of the contradictions in our nation’s history, such as fighting against tyranny abroad while still perpetuating it here at home. Also, you can compare and contrast aspects of our current culture and government with Washington’s ideals. Lastly, visit the Smithsonian Institution’s museums if you can. Visit the newly remodeled permanent installation, “America’s Presidents,” in the National Portrait Gallery, and peruse the always-interesting exhibits at the National Museum of American History.
The latest Secret Smithsonian Adventures book, It’s Treason, by George!, is on sale now. Pick it up, along with the other books in the series, to begin your family’s exploration of American history together.
Note: I received a copy of the book for review purposes.