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George Washington's Teeth

Last updated Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Author: Deborah Chandra
Date of Publication:
ISBN: 0374325340
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jun. 2007

Synopsis: The creators of George Washington's Teeth unhinge the jaws of history to examine the mouth of America's first president, tracking the poor man's dental woes as he gallops to war, crosses the Delaware, and, with only two teeth left, takes his place as leader of the country. Washington was plagued by black, rotting teeth from the time he was 22, losing about one a year until he was nearly "toofless" and had to have his first dentures made from a hippotamus tusk (that's right, not wood!). Poets Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora begin their quirky historical tale at a lively clip: "The Revolutionary War/ George hoped would soon be won,/ But another battle with his teeth/ Had only just begun." Indeed. Evidently he was losing teeth even as he crossed the Delaware: "George crossed the icy Delaware/ With nine teeth in his mouth./ In that cold and pitchy dark,/ Two more teeth came out!" (Cleverly, illustrator Brock Cole mimics Emanuel Leutze's famous painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware," making Washington seem more uncomfortably tight-lipped than dignified.) The story ends happily ever after with the crafting of a nice new pair of ivory false teeth that allow George to dance around the ballroom through the night. A four-page, illustrated historic timeline of Washington's life (and mouth) completes this carefully researched, very funny, charmingly illustrated picture book that works to humanize a larger-than-life historical figure and in turn, history itself. Brilliant!

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Who was George Washington?
•  How was he important to our country?
•  Was he a brave man?
•  How do you care for your teeth? Should you brush your teeth and floss? Why?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  How do your teeth come out? Will new teeth always grow after you lose them?
•  How many teeth do you have? (20 before age 2 ½ which fall out by age 12, and then 32 as an adult which are permanent)
•  What was more painful/worrisome—fighting the war or his teeth problems?
•  What do you admire about George Washington?

Craft ideas:
•  Make George Washington’s Wig—BRING AHEAD CRAFT—bring a medium garbage bag (one for each wig) and cut in the shape of a wig with a ponytail in the back. Spread glue on the bag and cover it with cotton. Tie a ribbon in a bow around the ponytail.
•  Make a Smile Mask—draw a picture or your smile showing your beautiful teeth. Cut out the smile. Glue the smile onto a popsicle stick/straw/rolled up paper.
•  Make a Face Mask—bring ahead paper plate and cut out eyes, nose and smile—include one or more teeth in your smile.
•  Make a Giant Toothbrush—Cut out an oversized handle for a toothbrush from construction paper(long strip of paper). Write “Brush Twice A Day”. Cut out bristles from another color construction paper (cut out a large rectangle and cut strips for the bristles and attach.)

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!