biting into hot dog!: eleanor roosevelt throws a picnic by leslie kimmelman and victor juhasz

When is a hot dog more than just a hot dog?

When it’s served on a silver tray to the first reigning British monarchs to ever set foot on American soil!

Yes, that’s precisely what happened when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the United States in June 1939.

The King and Queen arrive at Union Station (June 8, 1939).

To celebrate this momentous occasion, Eleanor Roosevelt decided to host an all-American picnic at Top Cottage, their beautiful countryside retreat overlooking the Hudson River Valley in Hyde Park, New York.

All illustrations © 2014 Victor Juhasz

In Hot Dog!: Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic (Sleeping Bear Press, 2014), Leslie Kimmelman recounts how the indefatigable First Lady planned the picnic and why she felt it was important for both our countries. With Europe on the brink of war and the U.S. in the throes of the Great Depression, this would be a good chance for Americans to set aside their cares for awhile to welcome these special guests. Such a personal gesture of friendship would also allow Americans to see a more human, accessible side to the Royals.

(click to enlarge)

A hard working humanitarian who became her husband’s traveling eyes and ears, Eleanor was a longtime hot dog lover with simple tastes. She was understandably excited about the menu items she selected to represent typical American picnic food:

smoked turkey, baked ham, cranberry jelly, brown bread, baked beans, green salad, and strawberry shortcake made with local strawberries. And of course, hot dogs.

Yum! Sounds good to me. But not everyone thought hot dogs were appropriate fare for a King and Queen. As letters of protest flooded the White House, Eleanor reassured the public that the special guests would be “served with due formality” and that there would be “plenty of other food” on the menu. Besides, there would be more than ample opportunity to serve up the usual pomp and protocol at the White House state dinner scheduled for the early part of the Royals’ 6-day visit.

Eleanor dreams of hot dogs at one of the fancy White House dinners (click to enlarge)

The picnic, held on June 11, 1939 precisely 75 years ago today! — was a complete success, with the King scarfing down his dog with mustard and mucho gusto, and the prim and proper Queen maintaining regal decorum with her knife and fork. They enjoyed the Native American music, dancing and folktales and the relaxed atmosphere of the event.

Rare photo of Native American entertainment at the hot dog picnic.
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

The next day, they were given a rousing, heartfelt send-off at the train station, but not before both couples had forged a singular friendship that would help sustain them in the tumultuous days to come, as they battled a common enemy.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a diehard anglophile with a good appetite for presidential food. This story contains just the right ingredients to satisfy my cravings  — a lively, entertaining narrative that successfully conveys the light-hearted informality of the occasion without losing sight of its deeper significance in view of troubling world events.

Illustrator Victor Juhasz has done a great job of maintaining this critical balance between whimsy and solemnity. His caricatured likenesses successfully capture the essence of these larger-than-life personalities with hilarious facial expressions and body language sure to get kids giggling. We can feel Eleanor’s boundless energy and forthright presence in the vigor of Juhasz’s sweeping lines, and the interiors with their personal effects give us a good sense of the time period. But we also sense Eleanor’s deep concern as she listens to news about Hitler on the radio, knowing a huge war is inevitable.

Budding history buffs and foodies will enjoy reading about this little-known slice of American history, perhaps being reminded that there is a time for formal and fancy, and a time for informal and relaxed. This is a wonderful glimpse of the Franklins as down-to-earth people, and a paean to the value of friendship and cooperation.

When is a hot dog more than just a hot dog?

When it plays a role in establishing an abiding relationship between America and Great Britain, strengthening political and social alliances still in place today. Pass the mustard, please!

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HOT DOG!: Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic
written by Leslie Kimmelman
illustrated by Victor Juhasz
published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2014
Nonfiction Picture Book for ages 7+, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note

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“We love Eleanor. She’s the Top Dog!”


Guess what item on the menu made a lasting impression on Queen Elizabeth? From her letter to Eleanor Roosevelt:

We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President’s welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes — not to mention the hot dogs!

Source: FDR Presidential Library and Museum
  • Visit the FDR Presidential Library and Museum site to learn more about the 1939 Royal Visit and to see fascinating archival documents and photographs.
  • Click here to read Victor Juhasz’s cool post about how he made the pictures for this book.
  • Lucky peeps who live near the FDR Museum site: Don’t miss the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Royal Visit today! There’s a Children’s Event with both Leslie Kimmelman and Victor Juhasz at 5 p.m., a Hot Dog Picnic at 5:45 p.m., and a talk with Will Swift, author of The Roosevelts and the Royals, at 7 p.m.

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Extra Treat: Check out this video of author Leslie Kimmelman reading from Hot Dog!: Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic at the Bank Street Bookstore:

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*Interior Spreads from Hot Dog!: Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2014 Leslie Kimmelman, illustrations © 2014 Victor Juhasz, published by Sleeping Bear Press. All rights reserved.

**Archival photos of the British Royal Visit courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

40 thoughts on “biting into hot dog!: eleanor roosevelt throws a picnic by leslie kimmelman and victor juhasz

  1. AWESOME!!! I love the image of Queen Elizabeth cutting her hot dog up. If that was me, there, I would have asked “You’re supposed to eat food properly, right?”
    “Well, the proper way to eat a hot dog is to shove it in your mouth.”
    “But what if someone takes a photo?”
    “If you’re concerned about people taking pictures, then ‘HEY! EVERBODY! CAMERAS OFF! THE QUEEN’S HAVING A HOT DOG!’ Now you can eat. In peace.”


    1. LOL. Shouldn’t it be, “Now you can eat in piece?”😀

      Funny thing about this is that I don’t think the press was invited to this event — so there are very few photos of it. She didn’t have to worry about photos. But, there were 200 guests there, so I guess she had to display her best manners.


  2. I sat next to Leslie at this year’s Hudson book festival! She has all kinds of interesting stories about the Roosevelts, which I was lucky enough to overhear.🙂
    But that menu needs potato salad, don’t you think?


  3. OMG, that book looks fabulous! (And hilarious – I love the eating instructions – just shove into your mouth until it’s gone.) The idea of Queen Elizabeth eating a hot dog is just about as amusing as my (late) grandmother eating pizza with her fingers. Or at all.

    I am going to be recommending this one to our public library!


      1. I took the link to your post with me to the public library yesterday and requested they consider it for purchase. The chlidren’s librarian I spoke to sounded definitely interested. The requisition form has a place to specify whether the requester would like to borrow the book if it IS purchased, so hopefully I will get to read it!


  4. Leslie sounds like a great researcher & I bet she has more brilliant p.b. ideas. Thanks for sharing this perfect start of summer title on the perfect June 11 day. I also saw you had lotsa fun with bear & his look at the book & his bread bun. Great that you included the copy of the menu from the museum. This will be a well-devoured read, I’m sure! thank you, Jama.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. I have no control over what Mr. Cornelius does in these reviews. He gets very involved in the stories and wants to imitate what the characters are doing.

      Leslie chose a great topic — I imagine she had fun researching the Roosevelts. I’m wondering whether she discovered the additional menu items (brown bread, baked beans) in her research or if it’s a matter of poetic license.🙂


  5. What a fun book! (And I’m thinking we need to have hotdogs for dinner in honor of the anniversary!)


  6. Love the final photo! Rescue the bear!!! Love this post. I didn’t know about the picnic with hot dogs. What a great concept for a book and a great story too. I too laughed to find out that Roosevelt didn’t like spinach.


    1. Leslie has included just the sort of details kids love. I can hear them now: “If the President doesn’t have to eat spinach, neither do I.”🙂


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