First in Their Hearts Critical Context - Essay

Thomas James Fleming

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Fleming’s version of Washington’s life is a good example of what Kenneth L. Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen, in their book Literature for Today’s Young Adults (1985), describe as an adventure-accomplishment romance; that is, like the protagonists of this type of young adult novel, Washington develops from an insecure youth with a variety of problems into a self-assured adult who becomes a cultural hero. The unrequited love of Washington’s youth, his search for a profession, and his development of moral and ethical ideals also parallel those of young adults in many novels.

First in Their Hearts also reflects a widespread concern in young adult literature over personalizing history and making it accessible to young readers. Fleming’s approach, which includes a readable and accessible text as well as a number of illustrations, prefigures works such as Russell Freedman’s Newbery Award-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography (1987). First in Their Hearts, while deceptively simple, manages to create a heroic Washington without ignoring his faults and humanity. It does not pretend to cover every aspect of Washington’s life; indeed, it never mentions his date of birth or death or the events that surrounded them. Fleming wants to explore what it would have been like to know Washington. Because of this emphasis, First in Their Hearts is an important introduction to Washington for young adults.