47 pages 1 hour read

Steve Sheinkin

King George: What Was His Problem?

Nonfiction | Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


In King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution, New York Times bestselling author and Newbery Honor recipient, Steve Sheinkin, delves into the lesser-known facets of the American Revolution. Sheinkin is known for his engaging narratives in children’s literature.

Originally published in 2009, this book falls within the genre of historical nonfiction for young readers, offering a refreshing take on a familiar subject. Sheinkin’s transition from educational publishing to authorship reflects his desire to present history in a more captivating and accessible manner, free from the constraints of traditional textbooks. Illustrated by Tim Robinson, this work entertains with amusing anecdotes while illuminating the human stories and personalities of iconic figures often viewed as one-dimensional. Through humor, vivid storytelling, and meticulous research, Sheinkin invites readers to traverse the birth of the nation through the lens of soldiers and spies, examining The Challenges of Leadership and Governance and the enduring impact of these individuals on the formation of a country. This edition, distinguished as Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, aims to captivate young minds and stimulate their curiosity about the past.

This guide refers to the 2015 Square Fish edition.


The 17th and 18th centuries marked a period of stability and mutual benefit between Great Britain and its North American colonies, allowing for self-governance and economic prosperity. However, this changed in the mid-18th century when King George III and Great Britain instituted a series of Parliamentary Acts for taxing the American colonies to recoup their debt from the French American War.

Starting with the Stamp Act in 1763, Britain and the colonists clashed over trade, representation, and taxation. The Townshend Acts of 1767, and the arrival of British warships in Boston Harbor in 1768, exacerbated the situation, leading to a violent confrontation in March 1770 known as the Boston Massacre. Even after partial tax repeal, excluding the tea tax, unrest persisted. This led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, which resulted in an outraged King George, provoking him to pass a series of harsh measures. Known as the Intolerable Acts, King George sought to reassert imperial authority over Massachusetts, thus suffocating Boston’s economy. In response, influential figures like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams met at the First Continental Congress in September 1774 to give voice to their grievances. They condemned the Intolerable Acts, denouncing “taxation without representation” and began to prepare for armed conflict.

By 1775, tensions reached a boiling point and both sides prepared for war as negotiations faltered. Fighting erupted in the spring with a British raid on Lexington and Concord to seize munitions. On April 19, the British encountered the colonial militia at Lexington Green, who had been alerted of the British raid by Paul Revere. The colonial “minutemen” intended only a show of force, but, when a shot rang out, it marked the official start of the American Revolutionary War, strengthening Congress’s resolve for independence.

In June 1775, colonial soldiers held off the British at Breed’s Hill. Despite eventually retreating, they inflicted heavy casualties on the British. That July, George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to organize the Continental Army. By August, King George III had officially declared the colonies in rebellion and hired German mercenaries to prepare for war. Washington, with a fledgling army of 19,000, was up against a British and German force of 32,000. Throughout the fall and winter of 1775, Washington struggled to keep the British contained in Boston, but cannons captured from Fort Ticonderoga helped shift the balance of struggle, forcing the British to evacuate Boston.

By 1776, the Continental Congress was poised to declare independence, with John Adams nominating Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Approved on July 4, 1776, the document asserted inalienable rights, accused King George of violating these rights, and proclaimed colonial nationhood. That summer, the British defeated Washington’s army at Long Island, capturing New York City. Subsequently, Washington’s forces retreated across New Jersey, facing dire circumstances and the potential end for the revolutionary cause. Yet, Washington’s surprise Christmas attack on Hessian troops in Trenton reinvigorated the revolutionary spirit and bolstered enlistment.

In 1777, the British aimed to divide and conquer with a two-pronged attack on New York but faced setbacks due to miscommunication and strategic errors, including British General Howe’s diversion to capture Philadelphia, which undermined British General Burgoyne’s efforts in New York. In October, Burgoyne invaded Saratoga, in upstate New York, aiming for New York City from the north. At Saratoga, Benedict Arnold led the Americans to a decisive victory, forcing Burgoyne’s surrender. Arnold’s decisive victory at Saratoga marked a turning point in the war and strengthened Benjamin Franklin’s diplomatic efforts in France, who was in Paris seeking financial and military support. This victory convinced the French monarchy of American viability, leading to a formal military alliance in 1778.

That same winter, Washington’s army camped at Valley Forge near the British garrison in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, British officer John André became acquainted with Peggy Shippen, a young Loyalist—a connection that later played a critical role in a notorious act of treachery. During the harsh winter at Valley Forge, Washington’s army, initially disorganized and demoralized, suffered greatly, with over 2,500 soldiers succumbing to starvation, disease, and cold. However, with the arrival of Friedrich von Steuben, the Continental Army underwent a rigorous training program; he transformed the army into a force that could challenge the British, imparting them with pride, resilience, and discipline.

In 1778, British forces regrouped in New York, planning a southern invasion. As they evacuated Philadelphia, George Washington pursued with the Continental Army and confronted the British at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. Subsequently, the British fortified New York City, and while in Philadelphia, Benedict Arnold, the hero of Saratoga, became military governor. Here, Arnold planned a betrayal plot, motivated by his new wife Peggy Shippen. He plotted to surrender the Continental Army to the British at West Point. This plan, however, was foiled in 1780 by the capture of John André, his and Peggy’s accomplice.

In 1779, the British shifted focus to the South, aiming to quell the rebellion once and for all. General Cornwallis advanced into Virginia, while American General Greene reclaimed much of South Carolina, pushing the British toward coastal areas. By summer 1781, General Marquis de Lafayette, a French operating for the Americans, forced Cornwallis toward the coastal defenses around Yorktown, Virginia. He persuaded Washington to move the Continental Army to Virginia; Washington, along with a French fleet and army commanded by General Rochambeau, arrived in Virginia on September 19th, 1781, preventing Cornwallis’s escape. Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown in October 1781 after a siege and series of attacks.

Despite King George III’s initial resolve to continue the conflict, the victory at Yorktown and subsequent diplomatic negotiations led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. This treaty recognized American independence and established the new nation’s borders, concluding the American Revolutionary War.