In honor of President’s Day, I bring a fun factual book to the table. I’ve mentioned before that I really didn’t like history much when I was growing up, so when I find fantastic books like this as an adult, I always wonder if this one would have made me love history. Would the child-me have laughed and memorized this one along with the nonsensical ones I knew so well? I sure hope it turns a few kids’ heads in that direction. Here is So You Want to be President? by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small, 2000 (although I have the updated copy with Barack Obama added in).
One of the many things I really like about this book is its loose tone that starts from the first spread. Opening with the line, “There are good things about being President and there are bad things about being President,” the book immediately draws you in. This is a book of American Presidential trivia, including important facts, random information, and humorous tidbits that I know many kids (and adults alike!) just eat up. Things like the fact that there is a bowling alley at the White House.
And that someone once threw a cabbage at Taft.
Along with those silly, somewhat unimportant thoughts is information about how Presidents typically have to dress up, can order whatever food they want, and what age the President must be. There are connections made between first names, where they grew up, how big or small they were, and what sort of families they come from.
If you were like me, you always hated the task of trying to remember how many Presidents there were and ALL their names. Well, thanks to this book, that information has a better chance of being recollected. How could I ever forget who the smallest President was and especially the largest now that I’ve seen an illustration of his enormous, custom-order bathtub! And what kid wouldn’t want to know information about what kind of animals have lived at the White House over the years?
I’m incredibly impressed at St. George’s ability to present all her collected facts in a fun, non-partisan format. The Presidents were human, just like us. Some were great, some weren’t. They all had unique personalities and strange oddities to be remembered for. They all got their job for different reasons; yet, as she ends the account with, they all must take the same oath and they all strive for the same thing.
Author Judith St. George is renowned for her nonfiction writings. She attributes her love of history to her experience of living in the historic Longfellow House which had been the headquarters for Washington during the American Revolution. She sounds like a fabulous woman, not willing to just write about history, but wanting to experience the research and really bring her readers along.
Illustrator David Small, is a favorite of mine. Having just read his 2009 graphic novel memoir, Stitches, I feel deeply fond of the man who has accomplished so much with an incredibly dramatic and somewhat paralyzing childhood. He won a Caldecott Medal for So You Want to be President? in 2001 and has received several honors as well, most recently for One Cool Friend which I mentioned in our notable 2012 roundup. Here he did a fantastic job of caricaturing the Presidents and helping make sense of all those manly faces we’ve all tried to memorize. His style is wonderfully loose and full of movement and expression. I typically think of historical figures looking pretty stodgy and boring (did I mention I’m not a history-lover?), but Small breaks that mold and presents the Presidential figures in a whole new light, while still remaining respectful of course.
I’m impressed by this duo and will continue to look for more by each. I hope you had a nice little holiday and stopped to think about those 44 great men that have shaped our country.