Saturday, October 17, 2015

Letting Jefferson Speak for Himself: A Biography Generously Sprinkled with Quotes

            In the recent picture book Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation, author Peggy Thomas makes liberal use of short “Jefferson” quotations to focus on his keen interest in planting. The language of the book is rich and varied and the illustrations match the written text, adding humor here and there.

  ’s the extensive use of quotations, many of which are set off from the main text, that anchor this book’s focus on farming. Here is a technique we can easily help students try out.

            Here’s how I might explain it to students:
1.     First, you need to read extensively about a selected person. Any subject will do: scientist, mathematician, politician, dancer, actor, teacher, chef, athlete, architect, king, queen, and so on.

2.     Decide on a focus for writing about that person. What is the idea you want to emphasize? Ambition? Kindness? Inventiveness? Sense of Humor? Interests?

3.     Gather some quotes that support that focus. Put them in the order that you want to introduce them. Quotes are readily available on the Internet.

4.     Write your “focused” biography. Include your quotes as you write. Quotes can be part of your writing or they can be separated out and written in larger type or even in another color.

5.     Illustrate your work.

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation is an excellent mentor text for incorporating quotations.  This book gives us a clear lesson about the craft of writing. 


  1. Those Rebels John and Tom, by Barbara Kerley, is another book that effectively uses short, memorable quotes. And it's about the same person!

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