cover image The Joke's on George

The Joke's on George

Michael O. Tunnell. Tambourine Books, $14 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-688-11758-0

George Washington falls victim to a sophisticated practical joke in this heavily embroidered historical anecdote. In Tunnell's telling, a presidential visit to painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale's natural history museum brackets a lengthy digression about Peale and his family. Touring the museum, the ever-polite George bows, he thinks, to two of Peale's sons as they ascend the stairs. But ``what George was looking at was the most incredible painting Mr. Peale would ever do . . . A wooden step extended the painted stairway out into the room. It was an illusion and a colossal joke!'' Tunnell ( Chinook! ) recruits yet another of Peale's 17 offspring as the text's chatty narrator; though humorous, the author's exclamatory style is sometimes strained. Osborn's ( Upon a Princess and a Pea ) colorful paintings similarly stress surface appeal over historical accuracy, for example, omitting cages for Peale's animals and inventing cubist canvases to fill Peale's studio. Poking fun at the first president may help interest children in Peale, but Barbara Morrow's less flashy Help for Mr. Peale handles period detail more carefully. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)