“This will be fun,” I said, opening the first page of our new bedtime story. My seven year old hopped into bed, her hair still wet from a bath.
“Get cozy,” I said tucking her in, “maybe tonight we’ll learn about the Federalist Papers!”
Alexander Hamilton was the theme that night, as he would be for several more, while we worked our way through a biography for kids written about the man on the ten dollar bill.
My choice of book served a personal interest, a tactic I’d tried once before.
“I know you like the Magic Tree House, but tonight we’ll be reading a recipe for corn relish in the Oprah Magazine Cookbook.”
Certainly a book on Alexander Hamilton provided more historical though less nutritional edification. My daughter was agreeable. I didn’t mention that my interest in Hamilton came after watching the miniseries on John Adams in which the second President was played by Paul Giamatti. In the presence of Hamilton, Giamatti’s Adams looked more like Chief Inspector Dreyfus when foiled by his nemesis Clouseau, than he did a cool head of state.
I wanted to know more about this mysterious first Secretary of the Treasury.
As she does with all biographies, my daughter asked me to skip to the final chapter.
“When did he die?” she asked.
Questions about life-cycles have replace the standard “Why?” inquisition of two years ago. Butterflies: four weeks. Alexander Hamilton: forty-nine years.
Then she pointed to one of the few illustrations in the book.
“Oh that,” I said, looking at the drawing, “would be Aaron Burr aiming a pistol at Hamilton’s torso.”
We headed back to chapter one.
There was much excitement to be had in the early chapters. Hamilton had a short childhood, one might say, and by the time he arrived in New York from St. Croix we respected his tenacity.
But this story was about hard choices.
My daughter contemplated the strategies of the Revolution:
“Of course the Patriots had to kill their cattle” she said after a description of folks doing just that on Long Island. “They couldn’t let the British get them.”
Later on, after a particularly vivid description of the Battle of Trenton:
“Hum. What do you think it sounded like when the bayonets crushed into the ribs of the Hessians?”
I missed recipes on Eggplant Parm.
Even the potentially dry section on the establishment of the federal treasury was spiced up with references to blackmail and an extramarital affair.
At long last, we got to the early morning duel in Weehawken.
Why did Hamilton choose the north side of the dueling ground so that the sun would be in his eyes? Why were the laws about dueling less strict in New Jersey than they were in New York? Why was Aaron Burr such a jerk?
“We don’t really want to use the word jerk,” I said.
She looked at me. Should I bring up the treason bit? He was acquitted. And I’m a little rusty on the Louisiana Purchase.
“You know what? Right now you can call Aaron Burr a jerk. Just don’t use the word on the playground.”
I had my own questions about Burr but if there is a biography for kids about the man I will not be reading it to my daughter at bedtime.
I learned my lesson. Ulterior motives, in politics or parenting, can lead to trouble.
We’ve just finished Double Fudge by Judy Blume. And while it’s no corn relish, it was pretty good.
Painting of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull.