Review of Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word

Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word
by Sarah Jane Marsh; illus. by Edwin Fotheringham
Primary, Intermediate    Disney-Hyperion    80 pp.    g
5/18    978-1-4847-8144-9    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-368-02251-4    $10.99

Corset maker. Sailor. Tax collector. Husband. Thomas Paine fails at all these pursuits. But what he can do is write and persuade, and when in 1774 he immigrates to the American colonies, he finds employment as an editor of Pennsylvania Magazine and thus begins his career as a political editorialist. The outspoken and opinionated Paine writes compellingly of the political situation in the colonies, and equally strongly of other injustices, such as slavery. Still, there is one word even Paine hesitates to use in his early writings: independence. His passion rises when writing his magnum opus Common Sense, however, and he boldly employs that revolutionary word twenty-two times. As author Marsh comments in an afterword, Common Sense “went viral”; six months after its publication, Congress approves the Declaration of Independence. The power of the pen resonates both in the narrative and in illustrations depicting Paine brandishing a quill pen that grows in size as his words capture the imagination of the colonists. Making the point that words matter, Fotheringham flings hand-lettered words, phrases, and written documents across the pages marking a turning point in Paine’s life. This stirring biography moves along briskly, with the momentum for severing ties with Great Britain paralleling Paine’s literary output. But Marsh’s clear prose style and short, declarative sentences allow readers to follow events easily — and even to slow down and think about them. Appended with three author’s notes, a bibliography, a timeline, and documentation for quotations.

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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