Officially released just last week, this smorgasbord of historical and hysterical verse features 43 juicy tidbits about each of our Presidents with clever caricatures by award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dan E. Burr. All based on fact, some poems point to an important achievement or event (Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny), but most highlight a quirky personal habit or idiosyncrasy (Harding’s size 14 feet, Pierce’s vanity, Van Buren’s pet tigers, John Quincy Adams’s early morning skinny dipping).
In keeping with the clerihew’s rules, the first lines of these poems end with the person’s name, and I like Raczka’s spot-on descriptions: “Toothache-prone George Washington,” “Fashion-conscious Chester Arthur,” “Electric-shock victim Benjamin Harrison,” “Fresca fanatic LBJ,” “Cover-upper Richard Nixon.” Best zinger of all? “Relaxer-in-chief George W. Bush.” Did you know he took more than 900 days of vacation while in office? 😀
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.
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.
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.
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, all43 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introduces our fearless leaders in chronological order via succinct, thought-provoking poems, blending critical facts, historical references and fascinating human interest tidbits.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.
Can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday than by singing the praises of Maira Kalman’s brand new picture book biography about Thomas Jefferson.
I pretty much adore everything Maira does, and I’ve been fascinated by our red-haired, violin-playing, wine-guzzling, pea-loving, Renaissance Man foodie President ever since I first visited Monticello years ago.
Her disarming conversational narrative, peppered with just the kind of offbeat detail kids love, is fueled by a contaigious enthusiasm for her subject. She begins:
Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third President of the United States . . .
What was he interested in?
I mean it.
She mentions Jefferson’s love of books, music, flora and fauna, and that he could speak seven languages. She spotlights the ingenious design of his beloved Monticello,”a Museum of his Mind” with its famed vegetable garden, citing Jefferson’s advocacy of a mostly vegetarian diet. Though he lived a good life, “full of work and love,” it was tinged with sadness: his wife Martha died young and four of their six children didn’t live to adulthood.
She details Jefferson’s role as a Founding Father and author of the Declaration of Independence,brilliantly humanizing other illustrious figures like Franklin, Adams and Washington via singular details: Ben’s crazy great hat, John’s fiery temper, George’s false teeth. Then it’s all about Jefferson’s presidency (Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark Expedition), before sensitively introducing the topic of slavery.
The man who said of slavery
“This ABOMINATION MUST END”
was the owner of about 150 slaves.
The MONUMENTAL MAN had MONUMENTAL FLAWS.
She tells it straight and true, and does not shy away from mentioning that Jefferson likely had children with Sally Hemings, and what a sad thing it was when people felt the need to hide their background by passing for white. Her despair over these painful issues and puzzlement over Jefferson’s hypocrisy are deftly conveyed in a way that respects young readers and will likely win their trust.
I love how Maira’s hand-lettering alternates with the standard font to highlight asides, personal thoughts and select facts. These words just brim with personality, keeping things from sounding too textbook-y, ultimately strengthening the intimate bond between author and reader.
Illuminated and expanded by vibrant and whimsical gouache paintings rendered in striking jewel-tones, Kalman’s account of Jefferson as President, scholar, statesman, architect, scientist, botanist, connoisseur, author, inventor, and plantation owner is recommended for readers of all ages who appreciate spirited storytelling and creative nonfiction infused with wit, wisdom, and the excitement of discovery.
Who better to tell about the man who was interested in “everything” than a writer and artist who herself is endlessly curious and so brilliant at curating the idiosyncratic ‘everythings’ she encounters in her own life?
If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be OPTIMISTIC and COMPLEX and Tragic and Wrong and Courageous, You Need to go to Monticello.
Walk around the house and the gardens.
The linden trees might be in bloom, filling the air with their delicious perfume.
Maybe you will lie down under a tree
and fall asleep thinking about
LIFE, Liberty and the Pursuit of EVERYTHING.