“So You Want to Be President?” by Judith St. George; with Illustrations by David Small. A Great Picture Book Read for A Post Presidential Election Year…or Any Year!
Can’t help but repost this gem of a picture book that has popped up at The Snuggery on successive occasions.
It, in my view, is well deserving of a repost.
The political vitriol , we hope, will lessen in 2021 as Joseph Robinette Biden takes his place in the presidential pantheon of the 46 men that have uttered the oath of office of President of the United States.
I say the political vitriol is over as that seems to be the nature in the political arena that seems to entail an ever burgeoning full out verbal combat as well as physical assaults as witnessed recently.
And that is tremendously sad for the young readers who witness it and perhaps, Lord help us, think that this is normative behavior.
It is most certainly not. And we pray that it is a small number of citizens who act on their emotions in destructive ways.
Is there a better way? I sure hope so, because I wonder what the affable Mr. Fred Rogers would say to adults about what we are modeling as role models to our children…and I add this admonition to the politicians as well.
In my day (did I just say that?), Washington and Lincoln each had a celebratory day in January and February marking their unique positions among these men, 43 in all as of the writing of this book, who have helped shape our country’s history.
That custom has morphed into Presidents’ Day, an acknowledgement of the position it is said that every American boy or girl can aspire to achieve, hence the title of the book, So You Want to be President?
To my mind there are three distinct qualities any great nonfiction children’s book should possess in order to have kid appeal. It should be factual, fun, and fresh. This book is all three.
It doesn’t hurt that it won the Caldecott Medal in 2000 for Best Illustrated Picture Book. David Small’s artistic sensibilities are spot on when it comes to allowing young readers an artistic taste of each president’s human uniqueness. That just seems to make it a lock on a picture book that kids will enjoy. Parents or grandparents will enjoy reading this right along with their youngster, and teachers will find many uses for it as a teaching tool in the classroom.
I bet an, “I didn’t know that,” will escape alternately from listeners, coupled with much chuckling over the foibles, errant behavior, and backgrounds of these not-so-perfect human individuals who have occupied the highest seat in the land. Relayed in a straightforward, yet completely charming fashion, each portrait and anecdote comes fully alive.
The author cleverly groups presidents by interesting characteristics, such as being born in a log cabin—did you know that 8 presidents were born in one?—which highlights that commonality of experience.
Individuality and personality are also uniquely and strongly portrayed in anecdotes of these 43 men who have uttered the 35 historic life-changing and fateful words of the presidential oath of office.
David Small’s compelling caricature-like renderings of the presidents play expertly against Judith St. George’s facts and frippery, illuminating our presidents, warts and all. To that end, here is a small sampling of tidbits I found by turns witty, interesting, and jaw-dropping:
William Howard Taft, obviously at 300 pounds the most rotund of presidents to grace the rotunda, was so big he had a special tub built for the White House bathroom. Four men could easily fit in it.
Lincoln’s retort back to someone who called him two-faced was, “If I am two-faced, would I wear the face that I have now?”
You want pets, we have them. Shetland ponies have ridden in White House elevators. Quentin Roosevelt, the young son of Theodore, brought his Shetland pony upstairs to cheer up a sick brother.
Thomas Jefferson could have applied to Mensa. He was an expert on agriculture, law, politics, music, geography, surveying, philosophy, and History. Oh, and he founded the University of Virginia and wrote the Declaration of Independence in his spare moments!
I could go on, but then you wouldn’t read the book. And you must. The most telling quote that reveals the common humanity and the huge expectations awaiting any man or woman who utters those familiar words of the oath of office falls, of course, to Lincoln, who said:
“I know very well many others might in this matter as in others do better than I can, but…I am here. I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility and take the course I feel I ought to take.
Amazing words! They need to be heard by succeeding generations of children and young readers who more than ever need resilience and determination in the face of adversity.
The pandemic has tilted their world a bit topsy turvy in how their predictable world realigns, and so they must learn to navigate within it by showing and believing in a renewed confidence in their own abilities.
Previous children of other generations have negotiated World Wars and a Great Depression. Truthfully, it is may not be without emotional cost. But, my hope is in the next generation to forge ahead with hope and belief.
And, they can and will; with our help.
And maybe, dare I opine, we need a model of a more civil discourse in the political arena?
Thank you, Mr. Presidents!
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