friday feast: the president’s stuck in the bathtub by susan katz and robert neubecker


Recently I’ve become quite the Presidential buff.

As much as I would love to impress you with an exhaustive list of critically acclaimed history books I’ve memorized while polishing the White House silver, I may as well confess my newfound obsession is all about discovering the “penchants and peccadilloes of the presidents.”

Feed me odd, quirky, funny, charming or cringe-worthy “factini” for breakfast and I’m a happy camper. (The term,”factini,” was cleverly coined by Mary Lee after posting her review at A Year of Reading.)

My appetite for fascinating factini knows no bounds. I grew up thinking our Presidents were boring white men in breeches who never smiled. Now, thanks to Susan Katz’s brand new poetry collection, I’ve discovered the naked truth: one of them (John Quincy Adams) didn’t wear breeches (or anything else) while swimming in the Potomac, several of them gave such long or confusing blabby speeches they probably didn’t have time to smile (Clinton, Harrison, Harding), and it couldn’t possibly have been the least bit boring to get stuck in a bathtub (Taft).

I live for this stuff! Thought I’d share three poems to celebrate President’s Day. It was hard choosing which ones, but in the end, I went with Madison (I have a thing for small men), Jefferson (my favorite gourmand from Virginia), and Bush (not the broccoli hater but the tongue tier). Adjust your bibs and enjoy the feast!

(James Madison, 1809-17)

Some presidents
were tall,
with lanky legs
and great strides.
James Madison
was small.

Some presidents
were big,
heavy as boulders
and thick as trees.
James Madison
was a twig.

Some presidents
owned fierce pets
like lions, alligators,
tigers, and bears.
James Madison
owned a parrot.

Had his pet
been large
and quick to attack,
James Madison
might have become
the First Snack.



(Thomas Jefferson, 1801-9)

Thomas Jefferson designed

a rope apparatus that shifted his bed
up to the ceiling
or down to the floor;

a two-faced clock that he could see
inside the house
or outside the house;

a swivel chair so he could swirl
to his right
or to his left;

a dumbwaiter that hauled his drinks
down to the cellar
or back upstairs;

a door on a pivot that he could swing
open to the dining room
or open to the passage;

a revolving stand so he could read
five books
at one time.

A cleverer man you couldn’t find,
but somewhat unable
to make up his mind.


(George W. Bush, 2001-9)

George W. Bush had trouble
with words, using
“terriers” for “barriers,” “bariff” for “tariff,”
“plowed” for “proud.”

Meaning to say “dreams take wing,”
he said, “wings take dream.”
He opposed all “federal cufflinks”
(whatever that might mean).

He spoke of “he and her”
instead of “he and she”
and talked about
a “foreign-handed” foreign policy.

And when he tried to say things once,
they often came out double;
his syllables would cluster
to form a syllabubble.

Some folks found this amusing,
but that seems so unfair!
If he hadn’t been the president,
who would ever care?

Attaining highest office
may perhaps be overrated,
for a president’s so easily


Ha! There’s nothing like a Bushism to put things into perspective,  I love Katz’s take on Jefferson’s fabulous inventions (she’s right!), and isn’t Madison just a bit more endearing now?

Young readers will eat up all 43 poems; Katz knows just what kind of juicy facts they’d find fascinating (FDR’s dog, Truman’s ghosts, Buchanan’s cocked head). Each poem gets its own little “factini” infobit, and there’s a great list of Presidential Notes and Quotes in the back, including all their nicknames and “firsts.” Give me foibles and fancies any day; I love knowing my presidents were only human, and now some of the more obscure ones emerge with discernible personalities. Neubecker’s hilarious, rollicking illustrations amplify the poems and round out the profiles perfectly. Highly recommend this book for all ages!

THE PRESIDENT’S STUCK IN THE BATHTUB: Poems About the Presidents by Susan Katz
illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Poetry for ages 6+, 64 pp.
On shelves now!

The always lovely and gracious Myra Garces-Bacsal is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at Gathering Books. Check out the full menu of poems and reviews being shared around the blogosphere and enjoy the holiday weekend!

I thanked Mr. Jefferson for bringing an ice cream maker from France to America.
Madison’s a real cutie (Len was tickled to find a President shorter than he was).


(Yes, George W. Bush was there, but we refused to pose with him.)


*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2012 Susan Katz, illustrations © 2012 Robert Neubecker, published by Clarion Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

38 thoughts on “friday feast: the president’s stuck in the bathtub by susan katz and robert neubecker

  1. Love that James Madison poem, clever, clever. Poor James, ‘a twig’ & perhaps ‘first snack’. Very chuckly! And I suppose Bush will never live the word wobbles down-poor guy. This looks great, & so full of fun ‘factini’s’ as you say. Around this election time last time, my class had a small book full of presidential ‘wisdom’ that we read & laughed over. This book would be even better with its poetry. I love that book stand of Jefferson’s-just what I need! Thank you Jama.


    1. I’ve sort of embraced Madison a bit more as a result of Susan’s poem and Robert’s giant parrot. She actually had me with “morsel” in the title :).

      This collection definitely oozes kid appeal; I love books that make history more accessible.


  2. Love the poems! I’ll bet Mr. Jefferson will remember you as the only one to thank him for French ice cream. Going to Monticello is on my “to-do” list for this spring.


  3. I love the line, “his syllables would cluster/ to form a syllabubble”. As someone who sometimes has the wrong word come out, or has the word come out wrong, I can totally relate to that. Thank goodness I’m in no danger of becoming the president!


  4. Now if Bush had had a parrot … or had a parrot talked for him instead … Can’t wait to read all of the poems in this book!


  5. Well, if this isn’t the perfect post for a Presidents Day poetry party, I don’t know what is! (Oops – about to blow a “syallabubble.”) Thanks so much for sharing, Jama – and to you and Mary Lee for “factini”!


    1. We can never misunderestimate the power and appeal of good poetry. I love the word “factini;” it sounds like a small pasta shape, like orzo or tiny shells :).


  6. Oh, this looks fabulous! I’m planning on doing a unit on presidents in March with my kids (before a hoped for White House visit) and this is going on the library list.


  7. I have to get this book! We’ve just finished our unit covering Madison, Monroe and John Quincy (loved the fact that he skinny dipped regularly in spite of being such a cranky grouch!) – Jefferson is one of my favorites (after Lincoln, of course!), and Monticello has to be one of the best houses on the planet to visit. Thanks for sharing these, Jama!
    P.S. I would have refused to shake the hand of the language terrier, too!


    1. Yes, I’ll keep my distance from the Language Terrier whenever possible.

      It was also interesting to learn how John Quincy often got his clothes stolen by kids while he was swimming, and he had to wait for hours sometimes for someone to bring him some clothes so he could return to the WH.


  8. Where were you that you got to see life-size statues?

    MiniPlu became a huge presidential afficianado in 2nd grade. Thanks to the Animaniacs ( ), we can both recite all the presidents in order, and, due to the numerous president-related books in our house, she knows a LOT of facts about them. Much fun! (For the adult perspective, I recently finished reading David McCullough’s “John Adams” which taught me a lot more than I’d previously known about either Adams or Jefferson.)

    What, no poem about Taft, of the title?

    And – hah! – good point about Jefferson’s inventions!

    (Side note: this book is in our school library and I keep thinking how much fun it looks. :D)


    1. Your school has this book and you haven’t read it yet? Is it because it’s poetry? Tsk tsk. Read it immediately. You and your girls will have a lot of fun with it.

      Those “statues” are wax figures. Went to Madame Tussaud’s in DC not too long ago. 🙂


  9. I’m glad that little kerfluffle about my misuse of the the word “factoid” came to some good! My feathers got a little ruffled over that, but now you have made me feel like a vocabulebrity! (And make note, that’s a Hahnism, NOT a Bushism!!)


    1. Vocabulebrity — LOVE it! Hahnisms are the best. I think factini should be added to the urban dictionary. It’s quite a tasty little word.


  10. Thanks for bringing this wonderful book to my attention! I’m going to see if I can find it for my niece. She is the perfect age to appreciate this one, and I’m sure I will enjoy reading it with her, too.


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