As presidential legend has it, the generously proportioned William Howard Taft once became lodged in his tub. In this pictorial re-enactment, Barnett (Extra Yarn) and Van Dusen (King Hugo's Huge Ego) imagine the undignified predicament: " ‘Blast!' said Taft. ‘This could be bad.' " First Lady Nellie Taft discovers the awkward situation and, at Taft's command, summons the vice president and cabinet secretaries for help. Van Dusen depicts the mustached, apoplectic president scrunched with knees to chest; in gouache caricatures, he emphasizes Taft's ample flesh and visualizes the staffers' dubious solutions (such as greasing the tub with fresh-churned butter or blowing it "into smithereens"). Splashes and bubbles protect Taft's modesty, just barely. (Readers may be reminded of Audrey and Don Wood's cheeky King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, though Bidgood didn't want to leave his porcelain throne.) Barnett's afterword questions whether this embarrassing event happened ("Maybe. Maybe not") and describes the president's multiple custom-made fixtures: "President Taft denied ever commissioning a special Taft-sized tub.... He was lying." Although there's considerably more naked flesh on display then in the average picture book, there's no denying the riveting spectacle of Taft's struggle. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)
PreS-Gr 2—As the author's note points out, there is not conclusive evidence that the 27th president actually got stuck in his bathtub; relevant facts are loosely cited. But seeing adults without their clothes on is the stuff of childhood humor, so this larger-than-life example will provoke much laughter. When Taft's concerned wife, Nellie, pops her head into the bathroom to see what is taking so long, the president must swallow his pride and seek help. He requests the vice president, a character painted as an opportunist seeing his chance to step into bigger shoes. The commander-in-chief continues to demand the presence of others, from the secretary of state, who proposes a diet and calisthenics, to the secretary of defense, who envisions blasting his boss out with TNT. When all seems lost, Nellie asserts herself, suggesting a team approach. Just right for reading aloud, Barnett's text is propelled with a pleasing rhythm, alliteration, and occasional rhymes: "But then came a squeak, and a slap, and a snap, and just like that… /President Taft flew from the bath." Van Dusen's spread of cascading water pitching Taft's posterior into the air and out the window will surely please the intended audience. The energy in the gouache compositions, dominated by a presidential blue, comes from the motion lines around the frustrated, fleshy, quadruple-chinned head of state, as well as the preposterous solutions proposed. As with most humor, there will be some for whom this is not funny, so sensitivity to one's audience is encouraged.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
Barnett spins a probably apocryphal but nonetheless hilarious incident into a Cabinet-level crisis. In a natural extension of his rotund cameo in Judith St. George and David Small's So You Want To Be President! (2000), the heaviest commander in chief finds himself immovably stuck in his (standard-sized) tub one morning. "Blast!" he fumes. "This could be bad." Forced to seek help, he calls on his vice president and the secretaries of state, agriculture, war and the rest—but their advice ("Dynamite!" "A huge vat of butter") have obvious flaws. Will he be forced to resign? Like Small in the aforementioned Caldecott winner, Van Dusen goes for a humorous, rather than mean, caricature. He depicts the porky president as a corpulent, bare figure sporting artfully placed suds, plus a fierce glower and a bristling handlebar mustache over multiple chins. Eventually, the luxuriously appointed White House bathroom fills up with likewise caricatured officials. At the suggestion of the (petite) first lady, they pull together so effectively that they send their lardy leader rocketing out the window. Noting that when Taft denied having a bathtub custom made "[h]e was lying," Barnett closes with a summary of his own research topped by an actual photograph of the oversized tub with several men posing inside. The soapiest, splashiest frolic featuring a head of state since Audrey and Don Wood's King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (1985). (Picture book. 6-9)
[A] delightful, smart, and silly story about the most famous bathtub misadventure in U.S. presidential history. Chris Van Dusen’s bold gouache illustrations make eager use of double-page spreads, creating the scene and capturing the sly jokes and apt personifications within Barnett’s rhythmic prose. These larger-than-life renderings and the no-nonsense dialogue perfectly suit the occasion, juxtaposing the grandeur of the White House with the exposed Taft... Fleshy, funny, and fact-checked, this perfect Inauguration Day readaloud will plump up any presidential collection.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Van Dusen depicts the mustached, apoplectic president scrunched with knees to chest; in gouache caricatures, he emphasizes Taft's ample flesh and visualizes the staffers' dubious solutions (such as greasing the tub with fresh-churned butter or blowing it "into smithereens"). ... [T]here's no denying the riveting spectacle of Taft's struggle.
Barnett spins a probably apocryphal but nonetheless hilarious incident into a Cabinet-level crisis. ... The soapiest, splashiest frolic featuring a head of state since Audrey and Don Wood’s "King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub" (1985).
This larger-than-life example will provoke much laughter. ... Van Dusen’s spread of cascading water pitching Taft’s posterior into the air and out the window will surely please the intended audience. The energy in the gouache compositions, dominated by a presidential blue, comes from the motion lines around the frustrated, fleshy, quadruple-chinned head of state, as well as the preposterous solutions proposed.
—School Library Journal
The combination of Barnett’s repetitive assonance and Van Dusen’s gouache caricature illustrations (with strategically placed water and bubbles) sets the hilarious tone. A concluding author’s note reveals an archival photo of four men sitting in Taft’s custom-built bathtub for the White House and presents the actual facts pertaining to the president and his numerous commissioned bathtubs. Studying the presidency need never be dull again.
The illustrations perfectly match the tone and tenor of Barnett’s words. Taft is depicted in all his large, naked glory, but the illustrations give the President an air of authority and dignity. The book itself is physically large, though Taft is largest of all, filling up his spacious bathroom with his voluminous body and endless cacophony. Kids will enjoy the humor and energy in this story and be intrigued by the notion that presidents are people, too.
—Library Media Connection
Each page is a deliciously smooth (like chocolate!) series of illustrations of the drama — images where the rolls of flesh almost become animated themselves. How did Van Dusen do it? ... He makes the most of Mac Barnett's hilarious, imaginative and yet still respectful tale. ... This book rewards readers of all ages.
—The Sunday Plain Dealer
The funniest kids' history book we've seen in a while. ... Lots of silly fun.
—New York Post
Van Dusen's exaggerated gouache illustrations contribute to the author's merry absurdities.
—San Jose Mercury News
The text is humorous and early 20th century-sounding, with oversized illustrations and suit the subject perfectly.
—Palo Alto Weekly