Great Leaders and the Place They Called Home

Feeling a bit overwhelmed/angry/confused with the current race to the White House? Imagine what your kids think of the whole thing. This Presidents Day, remind them (and yourself) that great men have held that office and accomplished wonderful things for the country. These two books provide much-needed salve. (Also, check out the link at the bottom–it’s a video of Sabuda explaining his process.)

Nice Work, Franklin! by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day; Dial Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 5-9.

Jurmain and Day’s latest presidential collaboration (George Did It! and Worst of Friends) explores the life and career of Franklin Roosevelt. Though permanently disabled by polio, Roosevelt was determined not to be defined by this handicap. This resilience exemplified how Roosevelt faced his disability and the Great Depression. Jurmain’s story weaves facts with amusing anecdotes to paint a full picture of the man while also keeping kids engaged. In one such account, the president’s children cheer him on while he conditions his leg muscles, rallying  for various body parts–thigh, calf, and the favorite, the gluteus maximus. Day’s pencil, watercolor, and gouache illustrations perfectly capture Roosevelt’s complexities and the crises he faced with spirit and levity. The story isn’t all gloss and cheer–Jurmain highlights that, although most Americans loved FDR (they did elect him to office four times, after all), plenty of folks disagreed with his policies, then and now. Nice Work, Franklin! hits the non-fiction trifecta with the power to enlighten, entertain and educate.

The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation’s Home, by Robert Sabuda; Orchard Books, $29.99, 6 spreads 9 popups, ages 6 and up.

Every president since John Adams has called the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home, and 1.5 million people visit the White House annually. Now, master paper engineer Robert Sabuda brings the tour between hardcovers, showcasing six distinct parts of the property, including the Lincoln Bedroom, the Rose Garden, and the South Lawn. Like any other Sabuda popup, details are everywhere–from tiny lamps in the massive chandelier to a Secret Service agent hiding behind an Oval Office curtain. An adaptation of “Inauguration Day” by Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909) runs through the book and provides appropriate lyricism.

Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents, by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner; Quirk Books, $13.99, 224 pages, ages 7-10.

Celebrate Presidents’ Day with this thoroughly enjoyable nonfiction examination of America’s presidents before they grew up. Stabler continues his exploration of popular history (Secret Lives of the Supreme Court; Secret Lives of Great Authors) by digging into the boyhoods of twenty commanders-in-chief. Many were pranksters, like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, and others had surprising hobbies like ballroom dancing (Taft). Ford faced dyslexia, and Obama’s first job at Baskin Robbins ruined his taste for ice cream for life. Lively and engaging text are accompanied by Horner’s 200 caricatures of the presidents as young boys. A wonderful reminder that even the most powerful people in the world were once children too, and that greatness can come from anywhere.