KID PRESIDENTS

TRUE TALES OF CHILDHOOD FROM AMERICA'S PRESIDENTS

Stories from their child and teen years reveal that U.S. presidents were kids like any others—with hobbies and families and escapades both amusing and alarming.

Robert Schnakenberg, author of Secret Lives of Great Authors (illustrated by Mario Zucca, 2008) and similar titles for adults, uses a pseudonym for this entertaining collection of presidential trivia. Embellishing the story of Washington and the cherry tree with a fire-breathing dinosaur, he points out that that oft-told anecdote is fantasy. Instead, he offers 16 “true tales” organized into three sections, along with additional factoids about games and pranks, early jobs and mishaps, as well as teachers’ comments about our nation’s leaders. He rounds out his collection with a final surprising fact about each of the 44 presidents (Cleveland gets two for his two nonconsecutive terms). With examples that include Grant’s early horsemanship, Obama’s travails as a new boy in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the nearsighted Reagan’s butterfly collection, the author presents engaging vignettes of these men as boys. Horner’s full-color cartoons add to the humor. For young readers wanting to know more about individual presidents, the author provides suggested titles. Troublingly, though, there is no indication of the author’s sources, either in the book or on the publisher’s website. These tales are pleasingly told, but readers cannot know where the facts end and embellishment begins. Young readers deserve to know that, too.

Lively but not reliable. (index) (Collective biography. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59474-731-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.

50 IMPRESSIVE KIDS AND THEIR AMAZING (AND TRUE!) STORIES

From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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