Feb 20, 2012

A Peek at Picture Book Presidents

Monday is officially "Presidents' Day".

My grandpa, George, named for Washington, was born at the end of the 19th century in Appalachia on February 22. It's been a favorite story among kin that he married Martha, whose birthday was the Fourth of July.

So call me sentimental, but I appreciate Presidents' Day as more than just a bank, stock market, and post office holiday on which to shop for discounted linens.

In a post at the start of the month I commented on the importance of acknowledging significant history throughout the year, not just on designated days or months. I hope you'll share these featured titles year 'round.

This week, though, I'll put them in the spotlight in honor of Grandpa George's memory.

First up: Presidents' Day by the incomparable Anne Rockwell. She has the ability to make any subject not only appealing but accessible for even the youngest readers or listeners. Key historic facts about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, all honored on Mt. Rushmore, are shared through a simple story about a school play.

Equally appealing and informative is My Teacher for President, by Kay Winters. When it comes to discussions about desirable qualities and character traits in a president (as opposed to rants and attacks), we might do well to make this required reading for all voters. In fact, a civics or poli-sci class could share this and launch a spirited debate about which qualities (apart from money and party affiliations) are most essential in a candidate for president. Includes a lovely dose of inside jokes and tongue-in-cheek parallel situations.

If you don't already know Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin I'd have to ask- where the heck have you been? With the same addictive appeal as Click Clack Moo and related titles (images, irony, repetition, and humor) Duck for President takes a seriously funny look at responsibility with "the grass is always greener" undertones. If you don't believe me, you can view the entire book on this book trailer video. But no peeking at the last page until you've seen or read it all!

You may feel that the abundance of titles related to Lincoln would have exhausted the subject. Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler offers remarkable and unexpected insights into Lincoln's presidency.
If you are impressed by the impact of social media on presidential politics, imagine the effects of nascent photography on Lincoln's presidency (and power). He was the first president whose image reached the majority of Americans, (albeit after a much greater time lag than with FaceBook or Twitter). His was the face loved or hated during the Civil War, his were the first presidential decisions, signings, speeches that were visually recorded and widely distributed. He was the first of our presidents generally felt to be "known" by the citizenry, for better or for worse.
Take time to look at the archival photographs in this book, even if you don't read a word (but I dare you not to read once you open the cover).

With any luck at all you'll have found some new titles here to explore and share. Just remember to keep them in the mix throughout the year, especially this political year. If you have other titles to recommend, please leave a note.


  1. I don't tire of Abe Lincoln books, so here's a favorite that you can't help reading (and singing) over and over again with your kids: Our Abe Lincoln by Jim Ayelsworth. It's set to the tune of "Old Gray Mare," which is a song that was written from one of Lincoln's campaign songs. This is a great read aloud that will stay with you and your kids

  2. Jenny,
    Thanks for the kudos for this, another of my favorites, too. Jim Ayelsworth does credit to anything he tackles, but especially so in this case.
    Don't you long for a presidential campaign with catchy tunes and lyrics instead of... what we have now?
    It would be fun to challenge kids to create lyrics about their candidates to familiar tunes, ala Alan Katz's Take Me Out of the Bathtub!


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.