Monday, February 6, 2012

Presidential Hopefuls

I've confessed before that I don't do a lot of browsing at the library.  Instead, I return my books, pick up my holds and I'm on to the next stop.  But I had a few minutes the other day at the beautiful I-wish-I-could-live-there Children's Room at the 42nd Street library and serendipitously happened upon not one but two books about presidents (and/or first ladies) to complement the one I'd put on hold, just in time for Presidents' Day.

What Presidents Are Made Of by Hanoch Piven is comprised of portraits of selected presidents, along with snippets of biographical information.  But these aren't your staid presidential portraits.  These are collages, made with materials that Piven thought conveyed the essence of each president, like peanuts for Jimmy Carter's nose or jelly beans for Ronald Reagan's features.  The biographical information isn't just the usual historical fare either but tidbits that are interesting enough to entice a child into learning more.  I love the double meaning of the title!  The book includes photos or paintings of all the presidents through publication date (2004) at the end.  When I asked my daughter what she noticed about them she said, "They all have white faces."  I pointed out that that is true no longer (a new paperback edition has come out which includes Barack Obama.), but something true then still is: they are all men. 

And speaking of the lack of female presidents, Doreen Rappaport's Eleanor: Quiet No More is a wonderful introduction to a great First Lady and great humanitarian.  A picture book biography which follows Eleanor from her birth to the end of her life, it includes many of her famous sayings, like "Do something every day that scares you" although it omits the famous "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  

Finally, I had put the justly-praised Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman on hold and picked it just a few days ago.  In her signature style, Kalman tells Lincoln's story and manages to include just the right amount of historical context combined with musings about his family life and inner that a child can relate to such as "On the day he was elected, I bet Mary made his favorite vanilla cake."

My 6-year-old, no history buff, loved all of these, and even my 4-year-old sat through them happily. 

What are your favorite books about presidents or first ladies?


  1. I confess I have not read picture books about actual presidents but I do like Madame President and If I Were President. Both are picture books about girls (and boys in the second) who imagine themselves as the commander in chief. Some Madame President's humor might fly over the head of the little ones, but we parents need to be entertained too, yes?

  2. It's been a long time since I have read any children's books about presidents. When I was in late elementary school (roughly 5th-7th grades), I was hooked on a whole series of books on various historical leaders (presidents, generals, explorers, etc.). The titles were always, the name of the person followed by BOY ___________, such as, "George Washington, Boy General". They were fascinating books but I haven't seen anything like them for years.

  3. By the way, You have now been dubbed a recipient of The Liebster Award. You can learn all about it on my blog at .

  4. Apparently, I'm the second person this week to give you a Liebster Award:

    Congratulations twice over!

    On the presidential front, I was fascinated to see your reference to the Eleanor Roosevelt book, which seems interesting and kind of dark. Because of our Eleanor, we are of course very into Roosevelt. Our favorite book about her is Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, which fictionalizes an actual episode in the real-life friendship of Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.

  5. Thanks, Annie. I'll be passing the award along shortly.

    The Eleanor Roosevelt book is dark insofar as the title character's life was difficult, but I found it ultimately uplifting - and empowering for girls.

  6. Oh, and I'll definitely see if the NYPL has Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride. I also have Amelia Lost, the middle-grade (or possibly a little older) bio of Earhart by Candace Fleming sitting on my teetering stack of library books, waiting to be read.