Since moving to Virginia, I’ve become quite the Presidential buff. It’s easy to do since eight Presidents were born here, and I bump into fascinating history wherever I turn.
That’s why I get excited whenever a new children’s book comes out profiling a single President, or, as in the case of Marilyn Singer’s fabulous new poetry collection, all 43 of them.
In Rutherford B., Who Was He?, Marilyn introduces our fearless leaders in chronological order via succinct, thought-provoking poems, blending critical facts, historical references and fascinating human interest tidbits.
All but eight (grouped together for spirited discourse) are featured in single poems. With just a few masterful strokes, she highlights the subject’s claim to fame and illuminates character and personality, so we can better understand the why’s and wherefore’s. She does not shy away from foibles, failings, controversy or scandal, and I love the sense of continuity from one administration to the next, giving us a broad sweep of Presidential history from Washington to Obama.
Paired with John Hendrix’s witty, exuberant caricatures and crackerjack hand-drawn typography, these verses pulse with verve and vigor — a showcase of poetic forms (a Nixon reverso!) with clever, innovative rhymes that truly bring our Presidents to life.
Today, for your crunchable enjoyment, I’m serving up Marilyn’s poem about our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, with a plate of his wife Grace’s Icebox Cookies on the side.
Interesting that a man known as “Silent Cal” led us through most of the Roaring Twenties, a decidedly loud time of dynamic social and cultural change, materialism, excess and partying to the max. He was popular while in office, but opinions are now divided about his legacy. “Though Coolidge was certainly not solely responsible for the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, his policies helped lead to these.”
Speculation! People scrambling
to invest — a kind of gambling.
It was easy to get credit — spending soared.
They called him Silent Cal,
while the twenties roared.
More autos on the highway.
More airplanes on the flyways.
With radio and movies, who was bored?
They kept cool with Mr. Coolidge,
while the twenties roared.
Though there was Prohibition,
people had less inhibition
at speakeasies, where the drinks and music poured.
Lots of fun, lots of cash
(till the Stock Market Crash).
Calvin Coolidge stayed at home and snored.
They say he left the White House still adored
while the Roaring Twenties . . . roared.
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♥ Chew on This ♥
In his short bio from the book’s back matter, we learn that Coolidge got his nickname because he disliked making small talk at social events. Grace was just the opposite — a congenial, vivacious hostess.
What about food? Coolidge loved chicken and apple pie, and loved to steal a snack from a White House storeroom that contained pickles, jams and jellies. Alice Roosevelt supposedly said he looked like “he’d been weaned on a pickle.”
While Vice President to Warren G. Harding, reticent, dour Cal always ate alone in one corner of the Senate Dining Room. Just as frugal with his time as his words, he ate his breakfast of wheat and rye porridge while having his hair cut and/or his scalp massaged with Vaseline.
In order to cut costs, he reduced the meat served at State Dinners, and in fact conducted more meetings at breakfast because it was cheaper than serving lunch or dinner. I do like that he hosted “alphabetical breakfasts,” inviting about 12 guests at a time according to their last names. The menu? Always sausage, bacon, eggs, buckwheat pancakes, corn muffins, grapefruit, toast and coffee. :)
What about the lively Grace? Apparently not a great cook at the beginning of their marriage, but she eventually came into her own and endured a lot of ribbing from her husband along the way. When she baked biscuits, Cal would stomp the ground to mimic the sound of it falling to the floor. Her tough pie crusts prompted him to ask friends, “Don’t you think the road commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?”
Cheeky Cal! Wonder if he appreciated Grace for her Icebox Cookies — seemingly the perfect treat for someone whose election slogan was “Keeping Cool with Calvin Coolidge.” These easy-to-make brown sugar delights should be chilled overnight before baking to bring out their full flavor. Brrrrrr and Yum!
Grace Coolidge’s Icebox Cookies
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 3-1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 2 eggs, well beaten
Cream butter and sugar. Sift flour, soda and salt three times.
Add nuts, eggs, and flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix all thoroughly and pack into mold (long narrow bread pan), or roll into logs and wrap in wax paper. Chill overnight in refrigerator.
Unmold (or unwrap), and slice very thin. Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees F, on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes.
*Adapted from “Mrs. Coolidge’s Icebox Cookies” in Politics & Pot Roast by Sarah Hood Salomon (Bright Sky Press, 2006).
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RUTHERFORD B., WHO WAS HE?: Poems About Our Presidents
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by John Hendrix
published by Disney-Hyperion, 2013
Poetry Picture Book for ages 6+, 56 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note about the Presidency, short bios with quotes, and bibliography.
**2014 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor Award Winner
***Check out the official book trailer to see more of John Hendrix’s amazing illustrations, which have the flavor of old timey political cartoons:
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The lovely Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting today’s Roundup. Don’t be overly frugal or too silent — take her at least two dozen cookies and an apple pie, and recite at least 10 poems aloud from among those being shared in the blogosphere this week. Once you’ve done this, you may take a 2-3 hour afternoon nap just like Cal did. Still wondering why he called every meal “supper” though.
Still time to enter the giveaway to win a signed copy of Maira Kalman’s Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything. Leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Sunday, May 18, 2014.
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This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.