President’s Day: A (Sometimes Wacky) Look Inside the White House

Celebrate President’s Day with these true (and not-so-true) tales of White House legends, antics, and trivia. Who knows what you’ll pick up while reading with your kids?  There might be something in one of these books that will make you the next Trivial Pursuit champion.

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick Press, 2008)

Compiled by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, this collection of short stories, essays, and illustrations brings together 108 of the greatest names in children’s and young adult literature.  These authors and illustrators have chronicled the history of the White House from its very first residents (John and Abigail Adams), to the creation of the National Book Festival (Laura Bush).  Also included are several primary source documents, including President Nixon’s letter of resignation, and an excerpt from the 9/11 Commission report.   While the original publication does not include the current administration, the book has recently been released in paperback, and includes a poem about President Obama’s inauguration. Ages 12 and up.

A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of A Tremendous Cheddar (DK Publishing, 1999)

In 1801, the proud cheesemakers of Cheshire, Massachusetts learn that President Jefferson is serving White House guests cheese from a rival company.  Certain that Cheshire Cheese is, “The best you can serve at your table,” the citizens of Cheshire set out to present President Jefferson with the largest cheese wheel in history– 1,235 pounds, and 4 feet high.  While the story seems completely outrageous, it is, in fact, true.  Don’t miss the author’s note on the final page for further information. Ages 4-8.

Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln by Judith St. George, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (Philomel Books, 2008); Take the Lead, George Washington by Judith St. George, illustrated by Daniel Powers (Philomel Books, 2005)

Judith St. George, a master of children’s non-fiction material, has the gift of making historical figures real.  We all know of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  But did you know that math was Washington’s favorite subject, or that he idolized his older brother, Lawrence?  Did you know that Abraham Lincoln hated to be called “Abe”, or that his best friend once saved him from drowning?  These two stories focus less on the famous presidents, and more on the young boys they once were. Ages 7-10.

When Abraham Talked to the Trees by Elizabeth Van Seenwyk, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (Eerdmans, 2000)

“When Abraham Lincoln’s ma died, she left him a book and the wish to read it every day.”  So begins the story of a young Abraham Lincoln who, despite all the changes in his family, the chores, and the lack of available books, was determined to teach himself to read.  When a church is built near his home, Abraham learns the power of the spoken word.  Long before the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln began to listen and to speak–even if only the trees are listening.  Ages 7-10

So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small (Philomel, 2000)

How many presidents have had the middle name of James?  Which President was so big he had to have a special bath installed in the White House?  (My fourth and fifth graders LOVED to recite this fact).  Which President referred to his time in office as, “The four most miserable years of my life”?  From random trivia, to more well-known information, Judith St. George reveals the men behind the term “President.”  Ages 7-10.

President Pennybaker by Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Diane Goode (Simon & Schuster, 2008)

This selection is 100% pure fiction, but I’m including it because it’s too much fun to leave out.  Luke Pennybaker decides he’s had enough of being told “No” and sets out on a path to become the first kid ever elected President.  Luke’s following grows bigger, and bigger, until election day, when Luke wins the White House in a landslide victory.  But being President isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…and Luke’s not sure he’s in the right place after all.  Ages 4-8.

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