This is why “White House Kids,” Joe Rhatigan’s fact-filled guide to the smallest Pennsylvania Avenue residents throughout history, fascinates my kids. The magazine-style format offers anecdotes and excerpts from primary sources and traces a burst in public awareness of first children back to Ruth Cleveland, born in 1891 in between her father, Grover Cleveland’s, two presidential terms. Rhatigan’s book also features a spread — “The Presidential Zoo” — about the animals that have lived at the White House. Readers who want to know even more about the fur-and-feather set can turn to two other books that are in heavy rotation in my house these days: The Associated Press’s pictorial tribute volume “First Pet” and “A Raccoon at the White House,” by Rachel Dougherty, an early reader about Calvin Coolidge’s unusual, mischievous resident, a masked omnivore named Rebecca.
Facts and Figures
When every news cycle brings a fresh opportunity for an off-the-cuff civics lesson, it’s useful to have funny, factual books about the United States close at hand to ground the discussions. The exclamation mark in the title of Jonah Winter’s “The Founding Fathers!,” illustrated by Barry Blitt, hints at the fliply anachronistic text (Thomas Jefferson was a “Founding Dude”; “John Hancock was Mr. Money Bags”), which arranges stats and facts about 14 white male patriots on the pages like trading cards. For more information about the Father of the Declaration of Independence — and his life at Monticello, including several heartbreaking pages about the slaves he owned — look to the words and detailed pictures of Maira Kalman’s characteristically observant, exuberant book “Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything.”
“Heart and Soul,” Kadir Nelson’s sweeping narrative of African-American history, fills in the stories that literature for young readers too often leaves out. Nelson’s arresting and gravely evocative art punctuates the short chapters — told in the compelling voice of a fictional black woman — which stretch from the Revolutionary War to the election of Barack Obama.
Of Thee I Sing
Two moving and expansive books about enduring American symbols vivify abstract ideas through surprisingly specific images. In the spare, thoughtful “Blue Sky White Stars,” by Sarvinder Naberhaus, with (more!) photorealistic, precise art by Kadir Nelson, poetic doubling (red rows of autumn foliage; a line of white covered wagons) illustrates the connection between America’s ideals and its flag.
Part quirky history of the Statue of Liberty and part immigration story (as the book points out, Lady Liberty herself is an immigrant from France), Dave Eggers’s boisterous and stylish “Her Right Foot,” with dynamic, graphic illustrations by Shawn Harris, looks to a curious detail about the statue’s stance: captured mid-step, she points readers toward the nation’s future.
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