Make your own free website on
Book Review Web Site
Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
The Great Little Madison

Fritz, Jean. 1989. THE GREAT LITTLE MADISON. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN: 0399217681.

When a reader begins a biography assuming that certain character traits are inherent in a leader's personality, it is always an attention getter when the first sentence lets one know that there will be interesting things revealed about the subject. Such is the case in the first line of The Great Little Madison, which author Jean Fritz begins by informing the reader that this man who will one day lead a nation "was a small, pale, sickly boy with a weak voice." Fritz continues to tell the story of Madison's life and also the birth of a nation chapter by chapter throughout this detailed yet concise biography.

Fritz's accuracy and attention to detail is seen in the minute details that add to the story and also tell of the true character of Madison. Through Fritz's writing and also actual quotes from Madison himself, readers gain insight into the future president's passions. "Only recently five or six people in his own part of Virginia had been thrown in jail because of religious opinions that they had expressed. Furious, James wrote to a college friend: 'I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it...I am without common patience.' He would never have patience when it came to religious freedom." (p.19) Fritz also shows us the more human side of Madison's personality by showing his tenacity through his perseverance through continued episodes of weak health, his disappointments in his personal life (rejection by Kitty Floyd, p.28), and his continued rescuing of Dolly's spoiled son, Payne. While telling the important aspects of Madison's character, Fritz is able to describe without being didactic. The organization of the book procedes in a logical manner with frequent dates and details about surroundings that help the reader follow the progression of events. Fritz's accuracy and organization are further revealed through the notes and bibliography at the end of the text. An extensive index is also included.

The text is enhanced by illustrations that allow the reader the opportunity to see parts of Madison's world as he would have seen them. Portraits and drawings of people and events in the book such as a drawing of Shay's rebellion (p.38) and portraits of Dolly and James Madison bring the characters and events to life. Writings in Madison's own hand (The Solar System from Copernicus p.9, a key to the code Jefferson and Madison used p.29) let the reader see affects from the man himself. Detailed maps also serve to give reference points to events and places that are mentioned in the text.

Fritz's enthusiastic style gives the reader a well-rounded picture of Madison and also this time in history. It is obvious that Fritz felt that all aspects of Madison's personality should be explored as she shares his strengths, weaknesses, frustrations, triumphs, and even adds a bit of humor here and there. She is able to show development in his character as his thinking changes ("And here was James Madison, who had at first thought a Bill of Rights unnecessary, arguing in its favor. Why? He was just keeping a promise. People who had been promised a Bill of Rights at the ratifying conventions must not be disappointed. Actually Madison had become convinced that a Bill of Rights was a good idea, not only because it would make people feel safer but because it would help the courts." p.57) and the the thought processes behind his decisions as a leader ("Madison knew that as a result of the Embargo Act Americans as well as Europeans would lose money, but if they went to war, they would lose a great deal more. Surely, Madison thought, Americans would understand this and would stick together." p.101) These many details come together to give the reader a thorough look at the life of James Madison and the birth of a nation.

Back to Module 1: Award Winners

All Materials for this Site created by:
Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University