If the Walls Could Talk: Family Life at the White House

Overview

In case you've ever wondered, the walls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have eyes and ears — and, what's more, they don't miss a thing. Now, listen up because the walls have a thing or two to tell you!
During President John Tyler's presidency, the White House was such a mess that it was called the "Public Shabby House."
President William Howard Taft was so large that he had to have a jumbo-size bathtub installed —...

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Overview

In case you've ever wondered, the walls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have eyes and ears — and, what's more, they don't miss a thing. Now, listen up because the walls have a thing or two to tell you!
During President John Tyler's presidency, the White House was such a mess that it was called the "Public Shabby House."
President William Howard Taft was so large that he had to have a jumbo-size bathtub installed — one big enough for four people.
President Andrew Jackson's "open door" policy at the White House resulted in 20,000 people showing up for his inauguration party. (The new president escaped to the quiet of a nearby hotel!)
President Abraham Lincoln didn't mind at all that his younger sons, Tad and Willie, kept pet goats in their White House bedrooms.
Children all across the country sent in their own money to build an indoor swimming pool for wheelchair-bound President Franklin D. Roosevelt so that he could exercise.
President Harry S. Truman knew it was time to renovate the White House after a leg on his daughter's piano broke right through the floor.
Hear these funny, surprising stories and more about the most famous home in America and the extraordinary families who have lived in it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A real estate ad for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on the opening page sets the tone of O'Connor's (The Emperor's Silent Army) anecdotal, chronological rundown of the White House's inhabitants, highlighting facts and trivia related to the residence. In his picture-book debut, editorial cartoonist Hovland creates impressive likenesses of the Commanders-in-Chief, whether one per page, or several to a spread, and incorporates many of their quotes about their home, both admiring and pejorative ("It's a glamorous prison," quipped Harry Truman) in cartoon-like speech balloons. The author cites both milestones-the White House burned down during James Madison's presidency; Rutherford B. Hayes installed the first telephone ("Our phone number was 1," announces his wife)-and lighthearted tidbits: William McKinley's wife banned the color yellow from the residence; JFK had the lawn spray-painted green if it looked dry when expecting important guests. Hovland bolsters the text's spirited humor with his jovial caricatures and cheerful scenarios; one especially comical scene pictures large-scale William Taft carrying a triple-decker sandwich and climbing into an enormous bathtub with two rubber duckies. The account is light on contemporary presidents (the latest six share one spread) and some toss-off remarks will puzzle younger readers (e.g., "There were may scandals while Harding was president"), but O'Connor compiles much entertaining and amusing information, sure to send aspiring historians off to seek more. Ages 6-9. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
With a focus on each Presidential Family's time and contribution to the physical White House, this books dispenses some light but interesting information. Presented in chronological order we start with George Washington, the only president who never lived in the White House. From Washington's plans for a presidential home we travel through each president and his family, with a paragraph provided for each describing a detail about changes made to the building or presidents' White House firsts: first child born in the White House, first White House wedding, first White House telephone, etc. A two-page spread at the end of the book has each president answering a question, e.g. "President Hayes, how many people make phone calls to the White House?" Answer—about 5,000 a day. While the total content is minimal, the information is interesting and shows the presidents and their families as real people as well as historical figures. Hovland has produced illustrations that are chock-full and eye appealing. While the content is light, it is perfect for the browsing reader or paired with Judith St. George's So You Want to Be President or Cheryl Harness's Ghosts of the White House. A worthy purchase for libraries. 2004, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 12.
—Sharon Oliver
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-This amusing look at life in the White House is similar in art style and format to Judith St. George's So You Want to Be President? (Philomel, 2000). O'Connor walks readers through the presidents sequentially from George Washington to George W. Bush and mentions interesting facts relating to their stays at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While a few of the facts are the same as those mentioned in So You Want to Be President? most of the trivia is fresh and engaging. In a concluding section called "Ask the Presidents," each man "answers" an FAQ about the White House. The illustrations are in the style of political cartoons. The characters have oversized heads and some sport dialogue balloons with relevant comments. Hovland infuses each illustration with energy that complements the interesting text. This is a resource that will appeal to students and teachers, especially during an election year.-Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Home sweet home to every president except Washington, the White House has become an emblematic backdrop to history, as well as an old house with a history of its own-and, for both reasons, has been regarded by its changing cast of residents with mixed feelings. O'Connor chronicles its tale with snippets of fact-"Martin Van Buren auctioned off furniture that he thought was ugly"-and sound bites placed around caricaturist Hovland's cartoon gallery of bewhiskered or clean-shaven men, elegant or dumpy First Ladies, gap-toothed children, rats, pets, and livestock. A number key connects each figure to a caption, and each Chief Executive makes an encore appearance at the end to answer a common question, e.g., "President Taft, how many bathrooms are in the White House?" There are plenty of more systematic histories of House and Office both, but for readers who enjoy the quick-skim approach, this makes an apt companion for the likes of Judith St. George's So You Want to Be President, illus. by David Small (2000) or Alice Provensen's The Buck Stops Here (1990). (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689868634
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
  • Publication date: 8/10/2004
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 709,276
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane O'Connor
Jane O'Connor

Jane O'Connor is the author of more than thirty books for children, including the Nina, Nina Ballerina stories, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo, and the Fancy Nancy picture book series. Ms. O'Connor lives with her family in ever-posh New York City.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 26, 2012

    Great history for kids

    I bought this for my grandson in first grade. He can read some of it now and will be able to enjoy it for many years to come. It presents an interesting look at the White house and some of its residents in a fun and interesting style.

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