Friday, July 4

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words

by Dean Brindell Fradin
illustrated by Larry Day
Walker Books 2008

It's a reflection of my quality education that I graduated without knowing the story of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Or it's proof of what a horrible student I used to be. But perhaps if I'd had this nifty little picture book when I was younger it would have stuck with me while I was attempting to handle the grind of AP US History at the same time my family was falling apart.

In a few quick pages Fradin shows us the troubled childhoods of these two men, how they suffered similarly as boys, and grew to be men with something to prove. Throughout their adult lives their paths cross and intertwine, Hamilton the insecure with a chip on his shoulder for being foreign born, Burr the arrogant with anger management issues. It quickly becomes apparent that these two men were as star-crossed as any, rivals fated to shoot it out on the shores of the Hudson river one cold morning. To summarize any more would be to retell the book, and Fradin does such a great job swiftly hitting the highlights in this historic rivalry that it makes you want to reach out and shake either Hamilton and Burr and point out "Dudes! You're on the same side! Quit fighting!"

Day's watercolors have some best dramatic compositions I've seen for a non-fiction book in a stretch. The cover image looks like a frame borrowed from a spaghetti western, and the illustrations throughout are no less striking for their choice of angles and moments.

As always with picture books like this I'm a little uncertain about the audience. Readers old enough to be interested in the details of history like this would prefer, to my mind, something other than a picture book.
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