On the heels of a history-making presidential election, it seems fitting that the winner of the 2001 Caldecott Medal is David Small, the illustrator for a delightfully mischievous picture book highlighting the historical triumphs and troubles of our first 41 presidents. So You Want to Be President? teams Small, a prior Caldecott Honor winner, with writer Judith St. George, the award-winning author of more than 25 children's books, including several histories. Together, they explore historical and anecdotal evidence in an effort to determine what it takes to be president. The result is an entertaining and educational book filled with comical anecdotes, comparative facts, and Small's humorous, noble, and occasionally irreverent illustrations.
St. George starts by noting some good things about being president (never having to take out the garbage or eat yucky vegetables), as well as some bad things (having to dress up all the time and be polite to everyone). She then compares and contrasts the backgrounds, qualifications, and characteristics of all 41 presidents, including such things as where they lived, how big their families were, their level of education, and the shape of their physiques. She talks about religion and rhetoric, personalities and philosophies, and tragedies and triumphs. Some of the facts are well known by most, but there are lots of lesser-known backroom tidbits, too.
Readers can learn about John Quincy Adams's skinny-dipping fiasco, Franklin Pierce's embarrassing first battle, and the specially made giant tub that was built for our portliest President, William Howard Taft. When it comes to presidential qualifications, St. George touches on some serious ones (honesty and integrity) as well as some frivolous ones (musical aptitude and dancing ability). At the end of the book is a listing of each president that includes biographical information and an insightful one-line commentary summarizing his time in office. Often it is the seemingly insignificant facts that give this book its down-to-earth appeal and make it an utter delight to read.
Adding to the fun are Small's cleverly rendered drawings -- colorful caricatures that highlight, skewer, and provide a political commentary all their own. Most of the humor will be obvious to young readers, but a few of Small's subtler details will require an older eye and a keen sense of satire, making this a fun book for readers of all ages.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This lighthearted, often humorous roundup of anecdotes and trivia is cast as a handbook of helpful hints to aspiring presidential candidates. St. George (Sacagawea; Crazy Horse) points out that it might boost your odds of being elected if your name is James (the moniker of six former presidents) or if your place of birth was a humble dwelling ("You probably weren't born in a log cabin. That's too bad. People are crazy about log-cabin Presidents. They elected eight"). She serves up diverse, occasionally tongue-in-cheek tidbits and spices the narrative with colorful quotes from her subjects. For instance, she notes that "Warren Harding was a handsome man, but he was one of our worst Presidents" due to his corrupt administration, and backs it up with one of his own quotes, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." Meanwhile, Small (The Gardener) shows Harding crowned king of a "Presidential Beauty Contest"; all the other presidents applaud him (except for a grimacing Nixon). The comical, caricatured artwork emphasizes some of the presidents' best known qualities and amplifies the playful tone of the text. For an illustration of family histories, Small depicts eight diminutive siblings crawling over a patient young George Washington; for another featuring pre-presidential occupations, Harry Truman stands at the cash register of his men's shop while Andrew Johnson (a former tailor) makes alterations on movie star Ronald Reagan's suit. The many clever, quirky asides may well send readers off on a presidential fact-finding mission--and spark many a discussion of additional anecdotes. A clever and engrossing approach to the men who have led America. Ages 7-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
By happy coincidence, here in the wake of the recent controversial national election is an hilariously irreverentbut not, in the final analysis, disrespectfulcollective portrait of our newest chief executive's forty-one predecessors. While suggesting to readers with that certain dream that being president might not be all fun and games ("The President can't go anywhere alone. The President has lots of homework. People get mad at the President."), Judith St. George shows the men who have held the office not as remote, Olympian figures, but as human beings: short, tall, plain, handsome, proud, humble, with favorite or despised foods, "pesky brothers and sisters," pets, personal foibles, and various levels of competence. Eight, as it turns out, were born in log houses, no fewer than ten were generals, one (Andrew Johnson) was trained as a tailor, one (you know who) was a professional actor. Some were the very image of dignity and reserve; otherswell, a friend of Teddy Roosevelt once commented, "You must always remember that the President is about six." Combining well-honed skills as a caricaturist and a broad streak of mischief to such good effect that he earned this year's Caldecott Medal for these illustrations, David Small pays tribute to political cartoonists everywhere: outfitting squads of easily recognizable former presidents as cheerleaders in one scene; suspending William Howard Taft, our heftiest president, in a sling over his custom-built bathtub in another; depicting feisty Andrew Jackson decking an opponent, Richard Nixon flashing his "V for Victory" in the White House bowling alley, and again, slinking with Bill Clinton, like a pair of schoolboyscaught in the act, down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial beneath the sixteenth president's huge, frowning visage. In the end, below a somber view of Lincoln standing solitary and pensive in a darkened office, St. George quotes the simple, thirty-five-word oath each president has recited, and while noting that some fulfilled their charge less successfully than others, invites readers to pattern themselves after the best, who "asked more of themselves than they thought they could give," and "had the courage, spirit, and will to do what they knew was right." Childrenincluding a handful who will be occupying the Oval Office one daywill come away from this not only with a heightened sense of how important, and demanding, the job of president is, but with a feeling of connection to the men who have held it, for better or worse, over the course of our nation's long history. 2000, Philomel, $17.99. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: John Peters The Five Owls, March/April 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 4)
Today's children are future American voters and there is no better time to view government in action than around an election year. Here is a new book that earns my vote of confidence as discussion starters. The presidential office is the best place to start with younger children. It is currently getting the most attention and is most familiar to them. A playful, ebullient explanation of what the office really means is provided. St. George puts the presidency in the context of children, observing, for example, that there are both good and bad things about being President. One of the good things is that the President lives in a big white house called the White House. St. George goes on to share more good news (there is a bowling alley at the White House and you don't have to eat vegetables) and some bad news (you have to be polite and do lots of homework). She describes the office through the personalities and characteristics of past presidents with the kind of trivia children like. She discusses categories like size (and Taft's four man tub), age, personality (Andrew Jackson was a big brawler), siblings, and athletics (John Quincy Adams liked to skinny-dip). Her tone is light and Small's accompanying illustrations are rendered in a political cartoon style, showing presidents of different eras cavorting across the pages together. St. George and Small make history seem fun, the office attractive, and America's presidents human. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Curious tidbits of personal information and national history combine with humorously drawn caricatures to give this tongue-in-cheek picture book a quirky appeal. "There are good things about being President and there are bad things about being President." So begins a walk through a brief history of facts, successes, oddities, and mishaps. For example, most readers won't know that William Howard Taft weighed over 300 pounds and ordered a specially made bathtub. Small's drawing of a naked Taft being lowered into a water-filled tub by means of a crane should help them remember. Another spread depicts a men's shop where Andrew Johnson (a tailor) fits Ronald Reagan (an actor) for a suit while Harry Truman (a haberdasher) stands behind the counter. While the text exposes the human side of the individuals, the office of the presidency is ultimately treated with respect and dignity. A list of presidents with terms of office, birthplace, date of birth and death, and a one-sentence summary of their accomplishments is provided. This title will add spark to any study of this popular subject.-Alicia Eames, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Steven R. Weisman
So You Want to Be President? is easy enough to read even for children
in the lower grades, but like many such books it is ideally enjoyed by a child
with an adult. That way, its rich anecdotes provoke questions, answers,
definitions, recollections and more anecdotes...
New York Times Book Review
Just in time for the presidential election, St. George (In the Line of Fire: Presidents Lives at Stake, 1999, etc.) uses the experiences of our 42 presidents to counsel youngsters harboring that uniquely American desireto be president. Reflecting on the "good things about being President and . . . bad things about being President . . ." she offers a pleasingly diverse slate of facts and figures for her readers' consideration: age (the oldestReagan; the youngestTeddy Roosevelt), size (the smallestMadisonat 100 lbs., contrasting with Taft, at over 300), career choices (generals, lawyers, haberdashers, farmers), first names (six Jameses, four Johns, four Williams, two Georges, two Franklins), education (nine presidents never went to college, while oneAndrew Johnson"didn't learn to write until after he was married"). At the close of this sometimes wry, sometimes sober survey (including impeachments, wars, and assassinations), St. George encourages: "If you want to be presidenta good presidentpattern yourself after the best . . . [those who] have asked more of themselves than they thought they could give . . . They [who] have had the courage, spirit, and will to do . . . [what's] right." Small's (The Huckabuck Family, 1999, etc.) pitch-perfect caricatures, rendered in a mix of watercolor, ink, and pastel, expand on the personalities and support the narrative's shifting moods. There's a helpful key to every illustration and a presidential chronology from Washington to Clinton. Even a few "non-presidents" are featured: Pat Nixon and Henry Kissingerwatch (with future PresidentFord) President Nixon bowl in the White House lanes, and there's a wonderfully wry glimpse of two "also-ran's"Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraroexcluded from an across-the-centuries presidential reception by a velvet rope. A superb, kid-centered survey and a perfect way to enliven the perennial class unit on the presidents. (Nonfiction. 7-12)
Children's Literature - Charles Wyman
What could be better for an election year than a tongue-in-cheek look at our forty-three (updated from the original book that featured only forty-one) Presidents? Judith St. George has provided the factsan amazing assemblage of tidbits, such as the frequency of names (six were called James) and the fact that eight were born in log cabins. The best news for those who have presidential aspirations is that size does not matter. Presidents have ranged in height from five feet four inches (James Madison) to six feet four inches (Abraham Lincoln). Looks also have not been a great issue, but truthfully in this reviewer's opinion, television has probably changed that. Each page offers amusing information and it is made even more delightful with David Small's caricatures. His scene of the presidential band accompanied by George Washington on the dance floor and Abraham Lincoln asking Mary Todd to dance is quite funny. Lincoln, as the text notes, was not much of a dancer, but Washington and Wilson look like they could really cut the rug. The scene of Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraro waiting in the wings is gone since we now have a person of color as President. We still have not elected a woman. Kids and adults will enjoy the fun and come away with plenty of good information and fuel for their own presidential aspirations. Reviewer: Charles Wyman