Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Focusing on children who either resided in or were frequent visitors to the White House during the terms of 17 U.S. Presidents, this assiduously researched volume is a great way to bring American history to life for young readers. In place of biographical overviews, the author offers informal, anecdotal stories. Some are somber in tone: George Washington's granddaughter, Nellie Custis, loses her best friend in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic; Mollie Garfield's hopes are falsely raised when her father temporarily recovers from the gunshot wound that eventually claimed his life. More frequently the tales focus on lighter moments: Theodore Roosevelt's impish son Quentin sneaks a horse upstairs to cheer his bedridden brother; Amy Carter has her first camp-out in the tree house she and her father designed. While providing bountiful trivia, such as the fact that Calvin Coolidge's wife kept a pet raccoon at the executive mansion, Leiner's narrative is valuable for its depiction of a number of these Presidents in their rarely emphasized roles as fathers and grandfathers. The large format and open, uncluttered book design allow plenty of room for period drawings and a generous selection of photos as well as Keller's (Seven Loaves of Bread) stylized, colored scratchboard portraits of the White House youths. These intricately lined pictures showcase the dress and decor of the times while sustaining the candid mood of the text. Ages 8-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Dr. Judy Rowen
Life in the White House is detailed as seen through the eyes of the children who have lived or played there. The stories give us a fascinating glimpse into the way of life in times past-now it is hard to imagine cows grazing on the White House lawn, or any father stopping work at 4:00 P.M. to play with his children as Teddy Roosevelt did. Each vignette is prefaced by a scratchboard portrait of the children given voice in the text. Period engravings and photographs enhance the book. An afterword provides further details of the children's lives, followed by a timeline and bibliography.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Leiner looks at life in the White House from the perspective of some of the many young people who have lived or spent time there. She takes an episode from a specific child or YA's life and uses it to convey the mood of the White House at that time. The profiled residents range in age from quite young to adult. The accounts include Quentin Roosevelt and his White House Gang and first-grader Caroline Kennedy as well as Letitia Tyler's jealousy over her father's remarriage to a woman her own age and Luci Johnson's wedding. Although the author makes use of historical sources and incorporates background material, she also includes some fictionalized dialogue and thoughts, especially for the earlier presidents. The brightly colored woodcut-style portraits at the beginning of each chapter add little to the presentation; the good-quality archival photos and reproductions are more effective. The episodic format and shallow coverage will limit this book's use for reports. General readers and browsers will find this supplementary purchase appealing.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
Focusing mostly on the children and grandchildren of 17 presidents, Leiner's collective biography introduces young people who spent time in the White House. From George Washington's adopted granddaughter to Chelsea Clinton, the anecdotal profiles, some with diary entries, usually limit themselves to a significant time period or incident in a president's administration. Although they are filled with the fascinating minutiae of daily life, they don't always give a clear sense of their subjects, and Leiner sometimes compromises authenticity (there is no documentation) in her effort to make the text more readable: "Frank could smell the lamb chops and vegetable soup the cook had been preparing all morning for their dinner meal." A prefatory note explains the decision to use such terms as "colored", and an afterword briefly tells what happened to the children. The photographs are fascinating and numerous; painted scratchboards by Katie Keller add color and liveliness; and there's an extensive bibliography.
Brief exploration of the lives of some of the children who were part of the households of 17 US presidents. Each chapter opens with a portrait of the featured child in folksy, full-color scratchboard (the more remote the period of dress, the more charming the picture isLuci Baines Johnson and Amy Carter do not fare well), followed by the text and captioned black-and-white engravings and photographs. Leiner (Halloween, 1993, not reviewed) offers a glimpse of that child's daily life or an aspect of childhood altered by the White House years; her profiles include grandchildren (Washington's), the children of staff members (the Taft administration), and the offspring of presidential aides (the FDR years). Many chapters draw effectively on diaries, correspondence, and news accounts, while tidbits of valuable social history are incorporated throughout. More biographical information comes in the afterword, as well as a complete listing of the all the presidents' children.
An admirable project, this is marred by a writing style that lacks a consistent tone and point of view, veering between informal, you-are-there immediacy and awed accounts of the childhoods of famous Americans. The most affecting chapters involve children who dealt with loss"Tad's Union Blues" (Lincoln's son) and "Summer of Sadness" (Garfield's daughter, Mollie).