In time for Presidents’ Day observations, these new books give elementary-age readers insight into three towering figures in American history.
In George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale, Margaret McNamara debunks the famous cherry tree fable plus others, intermingling them with real facts to imagine Washington’s seventh birthday. Boxed notes distinguish truth from fancy, and George’s page-long first-person concluding note sorts out the truth once again. His last comment brings us neatly around to the holiday: “My mama was right — nobody forgets my birthday anymore!” Barry Blitt’s energetic pen and watercolor art is appropriately lighthearted for this good introduction to Washington — and to a healthy skepticism toward unexamined information. (5–8 years)
“Who was he?” a young girl asks herself of our sixteenth president in Maira Kalman’s Looking at Lincoln. At the library, she discovers facts but gets “lost in the photos of his unusual face. I stared at one. I could look at him forever.” The narrative lists some basic facts about Lincoln’s life and then moves to the narrator’s childlike musings. The story gradually becomes more sophisticated, introducing war and slavery, and concludes with Lincoln’s death. A gloomy funeral scene is a sobering, even startling, note among the profusion of bright gouache illustrations. (5–8 years)
“What if everyone owned the wilderness?” In The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks, Barb Rosenstock tells the story of two visionaries and their one encounter camping in the Yosemite wilderness in 1903. By the end of the trip, Roosevelt had been persuaded to create “national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and national forests.” Mordicai Gerstein brings his usual verve to the expedition. This is a compelling account and a fine example of an effective government responding to a vital need in a timely manner. (6–10 years)