Being Teddy Roosevelt

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Riley O'Rourke is writing his report on President Teddy Roosevelt in preparation for the fourth-grade biography tea, but he has a far more important goal: to get a saxophone so he can take instrumental music. His mother can't afford to rent him a sax, and he's sure he'll never save up enough money to buy one. But as Riley learns more about Roosevelt's "bully" spirit, he realizes that there just might be a way to solve his problem after all.


Claudia Mills' sparkling story ...

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Being Teddy Roosevelt

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Riley O'Rourke is writing his report on President Teddy Roosevelt in preparation for the fourth-grade biography tea, but he has a far more important goal: to get a saxophone so he can take instrumental music. His mother can't afford to rent him a sax, and he's sure he'll never save up enough money to buy one. But as Riley learns more about Roosevelt's "bully" spirit, he realizes that there just might be a way to solve his problem after all.


Claudia Mills' sparkling story about the influence of important historical figures is enhanced by tender, insightful illustrations.


Being Teddy Roosevelt is a 2008 Bank Street—Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Mills writes with such a light, humorous touch that many scenes beg to be read aloud. Much information is subtly woven in to the narrative, and the gathering of world leaders at the tea is a sight to behold.”—Kirkus Reviews


“Enriched by its portrait of grade-school friendships and goofy classroom happenings.”—Booklist


“Bully for Riley and bully for Mills for writing a timely, comfortable school story filled with likable fourth graders.”—The Horn Book


“Children will appreciate this gentle lesson about achieving a goal.”—School Library Journal


“Mills introduces an ingenious, likable lad. Alley’s animated art enhances the tale’s humor and helps capture the characters’ diverse personalities.”—Publishers Weekly


“A clever lead-in to a biographies unit, and the classroom, social, and family dynamics will be warmly and wryly familiar to middle-grade readers.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“Mills offers her usual sparking humor and insight in this appealing story.”—Buffalo News

Publishers Weekly

Mills (the Gus and Grandpa books) introduces an ingenuous, likable lad whose fourth-grade teacher assigns each student a biography to write, based on a book of at least 100 pages. When Riley hears that at project's end the students will attend a tea party, each dressed as the subject of his or her biography, he is less than thrilled ("To say that Riley would rather die than go to a biography tea would be an exaggeration. But not a big exaggeration"). The young hero is assigned President Teddy Roosevelt, and during his research picks up intriguing and inspirational nuggets about this leader's life. When Riley leaves his note cards for the report on a bus, he realizes that Roosevelt would overcome this obstacle and finds a way to retrieve the cards. Riley's best friend, inspired by the generous spirit of hisbiography subject, Mahatma Gandhi, helps Riley achieve his goal of playing the saxophone in the school band. On a triumphant concluding note, Riley's teacher praises the boy's intrepid spirit: "Bully for you, Teddy Roosevelt." And bully for Mills, whose credible, often comical caper moves along apace, thanks to engaging repartee among the classmates. Alley's animated art enhances the tale's humor and helps capture the characters' diverse personalities. Ages 7-10. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Christina M. Desai
This short chapter book is an engaging episode in the life of fourth grader Riley. His problems—losing his papers, forgetting his Language Arts notebook, not being able to afford a saxophone, and having a hard time getting anything higher than a C grade—hang heavy on his mind. The author deals sensitively with his problems big and small. Many a fourth grader will identify with Riley's feelings and admire his attempts, eventually successful, to devise strategies for coping with each problem. A school assignment about Teddy Roosevelt gets Riley thinking about how the intrepid president would have handled similar obstacles. He comes to realize that celebrities face just as much adversity as ordinary people. Roosevelt was asthmatic and his father, like Riley's, died young. The biography inspires the boy to focus on perseverance and solutions rather problems. The author populates her classroom with ordinary children, including the stock teacher's pets and show-offs, but they are not one-dimensional or static. Amusing illustrations by R. W. Alley endear these children to the reader and put their problems in perspective. The characters and situations are timeless, reminiscent of Cleary's Ramona books in their focus on the dilemmas and perspective of the young elementary school child. There is also enough humor to make this a good bet for reluctant readers.
School Library Journal

Gr 2–4
Fourth-grader Riley O'Rourke wants to play saxophone in instrumental music, but his mother can't afford to rent one. He can't possibly make enough money to buy one, and, even if he could, Mom might not let him, "because he was having enough trouble getting his regular homework done." A current assignment includes reading a biography (he chooses Teddy Roosevelt) and preparing to attend his teacher's biography tea in character. The plot moves smoothly to a satisfying conclusion that finds Riley gaining determination, new work habits, and a sax through reading about Roosevelt's life ("If Teddy Roosevelt had wanted a saxophone, he would have gotten himself a saxophone. Somehow"). The believable cast of characters includes best-friend Grant, who decides to wear a loincloth to portray Gandhi; overachiever Sophie, who must have 700 notecards on Helen Keller; and belligerent Erika, who seems to have gotten nicer as Queen Elizabeth. Alley's occasional black-and-white sketches are appealing and give additional information. Children will appreciate this gentle lesson about achieving a goal.
—Lee BockCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Riley goes to school with Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Queen Elizabeth and many other world-famous figures-all fellow fourth-grade students researching their chosen topics for Mrs. Harrow's biography tea. Riley is Teddy Roosevelt, and not only is he learning about Teddy Roosevelt, he's being influenced by his can-do spirit. Riley may still lose things, like all of his notecards, but now he figures out how to get them back. He still wants the saxophone his mother can't afford to get for him, but now he is determined to earn the money (after begging his mother failed). Mills writes with such a light, humorous touch that many scenes beg to be read aloud. Much information is subtly woven into the narrative, and the gathering of world leaders at the tea is a sight to behold. The black-and-white illustrations perfectly complement the humor of the story. A fine one-two punch with Jean Fritz's Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! (1991), the model for Riley's report. (Fiction. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312640187
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Edition description: STRIPPABLE
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 954,381
  • Age range: 7 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudia Mills lives in Boulder, Colorado, and is the author of the popular 7 x 9 = Trouble!, an ALA Notable Book.

R. W. ALLEY is the illustrator of Ziggy’s Blue-Ribbon Day by Claudia Mills, and the Saxby Smart, Private Detective series by Simon Cheshire. He lives in Barrington, Rhode Island.

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Read an Excerpt


Riley gave up.

He couldn’t find his language arts notebook in his desk or in his backpack. He must have forgotten it somewhere.

“Does everybody have his or her notebook ready?” Mrs. Harrow asked. “Riley?”

“I think I left it at home.”

Mrs. Harrow sighed. “This is the third time this week that you’re missing a notebook, Riley.”

Riley was impressed that she knew the exact number of times. She remembered more about him than he remembered about himself.

Sophie sat on Riley’s right. Her notebook lay open in the exact middle of her desk. The cursive on each page was as neat and beautiful as Mrs. Harrow’s on the chalkboard.

Erika sat on Riley’s left. She had her notebook out, but she hadn’t opened it. Erika did only what she felt like doing. Apparently, she didn’t feel like opening her notebook right now.

Riley’s best friend, Grant, sat directly in front of Riley. His notebook was almost as perfect as Sophie’s. Grant’s parents bought him a video game for every A he got on his report card. Riley didn’t think he could get A’s even if his mother bought him ten video games for each one. He had a hard enough time getting B’s and C’s.

Mrs. Harrow handed Riley a piece of paper. “You can write your assignment on this.”

Of course, now Riley would have to make sure he didn’t lose the piece of paper.

“Don’t lose it, dear,” Mrs. Harrow said.

“All right, class,” she went on. “We are going to be starting our fall unit on biographies. Does anyone know what a biography is?”

Sophie did. “It’s a book about someone’s life. A true book. About a famous person’s life.”

Sophie would probably have a biography written about her someday—if a person could be famous for having a neat notebook and 100 percent on every spelling test. Sophie Sartin: The Girl Who Never Made a Mistake. That would be the title.

Riley meant to listen to what Mrs. Harrow was saying next, but he couldn’t stop thinking up titles for other biographies.

Erika Lee: The Girl Who Did What She Wanted. He noticed that Erika still hadn’t opened her notebook. Mrs. Harrow hadn’t said anything to her about it, either.

Grant Littleton: The Boy Who Owned Every Single Video Game System Ever Invented. Plus Every Single Game. Not a very short or snappy title, but a lot of kids would want to read that one.

What would the title of his biography be? Riley O’Rourke: The Boy Who Couldn’t Find His Notebook. That didn’t sound like a book kids would be lining up to read. Riley O’Rourke: The Boy Who Would Forget His Head If It Weren’t Fastened On.

That’s what grownups were always saying to him: “Riley, you’d forget your head if it weren’t fastened on.” The book would have cool illustrations, at least. There could be a picture of a seal balancing Riley’s head on its nose like a beach ball. Or someone dunking his head into the hoop at a basketball game.

Riley grinned.

“Riley? Are you listening to the assignment?”

How could teachers always tell when he wasn’t listening?

“Remember, class,” Mrs. Harrow said, “the biography you read has to be at least one hundred pages long. Your five-page report on the biography is due three weeks from today, on Wednesday, October fourth. And then on that Friday we’ll have our fourth-grade biography tea.”

“What’s a biography tea?” Sophie asked.

Mrs. Harrow gave the class a big smile. It was clear that she thought a biography tea was something extremely wonderful. Right away, Riley got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“On the day of our biography tea,” Mrs. Harrow said, “you will arrive at school dressed up as the subject of your biography. All day long you will act like that person. Then in the afternoon we will have a fancy tea party, and you famous people from world history will sit at special decorated tables and have tea together!”

To say that Riley would rather die than go to a biography tea would be an exaggeration. But not a big exaggeration.

Sophie gave a little squeal of delight. “I love tea parties!”

Erika gave a little snort of disgust. Riley gathered that Erika did not love tea parties.

Grant raised his hand. “We can be whoever we want, right?”

Mrs. Harrow shook her head. “Oh, no, dear. I let the children pick one year, and I got only football players and rock stars. I’ve prepared two hats filled with names, one for boys and one for girls. You will draw from the hats to find out the subject of your biography.”

For the first time, Riley noticed two hats perched on Mrs. Harrow’s desk. The black stove-pipe Abe Lincoln hat must be for the boys. The flowered straw hat must be for the girls.

The first girl to choose got Pocahontas, an Indian princess.

The first boy to choose got Napoleon, the French emperor.

Sophie got Helen Keller, the blind and deaf woman. She didn’t squeal with delight this time.

Erika got Florence Nightingale. “Who’s Florence Nightingale?”

“She was a famous nurse,” Mrs. Harrow said.

“I don’t want to be a nurse.”

“Well, dear, we all have to choose out of the hat.”

“I don’t want to be a nurse,” Erika repeated. “I want to be someone who commands armies and rules empires and sinks ships.”

“Well. . .” Riley knew Mrs. Harrow would give in. That was the only way of dealing with Erika. “I suppose you could be Queen Elizabeth the First.”

Riley hoped he’d get some famous musician, like Beethoven or Duke Ellington, or even better, a sax player like Charlie Parker.

He got President Teddy Roosevelt. That wasn’t too bad. Riley had seen a picture of Teddy Roosevelt once, wearing a uniform and sitting on a horse. But reading a hundred-page book about Teddy Roosevelt and writing a five-page paper about Teddy Roosevelt and trying to drink tea while wearing a mustache would be terrible.

Grant got Mahatma Gandhi.

“Gandhi!” Grant shouted. “The bald guy who sits cross-legged on the ground in his underwear?”

“Gandhi, the great man who liberated India from the British,” Mrs. Harrow corrected.

“Who liberated India from the British while sitting cross-legged on the ground in his underwear,” Grant moaned.

Riley knew Grant wanted to refuse to be Gandhi. But only Erika ever refused to do things in school. Maybe Grant’s parents would buy him an extra game for having to be Gandhi.

When everyone had drawn a name, Mrs. Harrow gave the class another big smile. “I can’t wait for this year’s biography tea!”

Riley could wait. A tea party with Pocahontas, Napoleon, Helen Keller, Queen Elizabeth I, Mahatma Gandhi, and Teddy Roosevelt?

No way!

Excerpted from Being Teddy Roosevelt by Claudia Mills.

Copyright © 2007 by Claudia Mills.

Published in First edition, 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

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