The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Suggested grade level for each entry: K–3
Our Abe Lincoln: An Old Tune with New Lyrics written by Jim Aylesworth; illus. by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic)
New verses to a Lincoln campaign ditty follow Abe from boyhood to presidency in this unusual, energetic biography. Illustrations bridge Abe’s time to our own by picturing the song as a school pageant in which youngsters perform in period costumes. 32 pages.
Teedie: The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt by Don Brown (Houghton)
Young Teedie builds his frail body and sharp mind, growing into “a larger-than-life man” by entering politics. Events from Roosevelt’s life, quotes from his writings, facts, and watercolor illustrations provide a potent summation of the man. 32 pages.
A Voice from the Wilderness: The Story of Anna Howard Shaw by Don Brown (Houghton)
The life of Shaw, a pioneer for women’s suffrage, is presented in text poignantly augmented with her own words; special focus is given to her childhood. A muted watercolor palette and spacious composition convey emotion, particularly a sense of aloneness. 32 pages.
George Washington’s Teeth written by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora; illus. by Brock Cole (Farrar)
This lighthearted rhymed account of the Revolution and Washington’s presidency uses George’s perpetual losing battle for his teeth as the focal point. The summary in the concluding timeline is one of dreary, courageous struggle. 40 pages.
When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots written by Lynne Cheney; illus. by Peter M. Fiore (Simon)
Spare text tells of the despair of soldiers at Valley Forge, Washington’s bold strategy to attack the British at Trenton and Princeton, and the sacrifice and bravery he exacted from his troops. Dramatic paintings parallel the text. 40 pages.
Abraham Lincoln written by Amy L. Cohn and Suzy Schmidt; illus. by David A. Johnson (Scholastic)
A strong, unpretentious voice introduces Lincoln as a great man with a string of accomplishments—but still human rather than invincible. Seventeen full-page watercolor washes snapshot Lincoln at various points in his life. 40 pages.
Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman (Penguin/Paulsen)
A girl passes a Lincoln look-alike and wonders about our sixteenth president. Through a natural structure that follows the narrator’s thought processes, the narrative lists some basic facts. Bright, gouache illustrations and childlike musings personalize the account. 40 pages.
The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents written by Susan Katz; illus. by Robert Neubecker (Clarion)
Forty-three poems give each of our U.S. presidents their due, with footnotes providing a more complete discussion of the highlighted event or character trait. Digitally colored ink drawings emphasize the playful tone without deconstructing the verse. 64 pages.
What to Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! written by Barbara Kerley; illus. by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic)
Readers follow headstrong Alice Roosevelt Longworth as she sneaks out at night; rides trays down the White House stairs; and dives, clothed, into a pool. With a palette emphasizing her signature Alice Blue, the illustrations match Alice’s spunky spirit. 48 pages.
Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country) written by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer; illus. by Stacy Innerst (Harcourt)
Lincoln’s quips reveal his sense of humor. Less amusing, but perhaps more instructive, is the inclusion of information on his love of language, grammar, and elocution. Near-caricatures exaggerate Lincoln’s lanky frame and numerous bad hair days. 32 pages.
George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale written by Margaret McNamara; illus. by Barry Blitt (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
The cherry tree fable and others about Washington are debunked, intermingled with real facts to imagine his seventh birthday. Boxed notes distinguish truth from fancy. Lighthearted illustrations evoke the period while augmenting the text’s humor. 40 pages.
The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States (twentieth-anniversary edition) by Alice Provensen (Viking)
This overview of U.S. presidents (updated through Obama) depicts each man surrounded by symbols, headlines, and other materials illustrating his administration. The short verses range from funny to acute character sketches. 64 pages.
Eleanor, Quiet No More written by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Gary Kelley (Hyperion)
Roosevelt’s own quotes define her growth from insecure, unloved child to reluctant but forceful political voice to respected citizen of the world. The text outlines Eleanor’s developing concern for others and lessening self-consciousness. 40 pages.
Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy written by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Matt Tavares (Hyperion)
Quotes from Kennedy are interspersed with basic biographical information, here stressing his bravery and devotion to duty. A soft palette depicts idyllic settings while more dramatic incidents are shown in bright, bold colors. 48 pages.
Lady Liberty: A Biography written by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Matt Tavares (Candlewick)
This “biography” consists of fictional first-person accounts representing the voices of people who assisted in the statue’s design, building, financing, and transport. Together they convey a vivid sense of the ingenuity, politics, and hardships involved. 40 pages.
Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington written by Anne Rockwell; illus. by Matt Phelan (Harcourt)
This is an ideal introduction to our first president: nicely paced, admiring but not adulatory, and clear about Washington’s historical importance. Soft pencil and gouache illustrations stress the shy boy in the man we know best as a great leader. 48 pages.
The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks written by Barb Rosenstock; illus. by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial)
In 1903, Roosevelt asked Muir to take him camping in the Yosemite wilderness. By the time the two reached Yosemite, Roosevelt had been persuaded to create the national parks system. The dialogue is invented, but the ideas expressed are authentic. 32 pages.
The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage written by Iris Van Rynbach and Pegi Deitz Shea; illus. by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion)
Faced with an unjust new tax, Julia and Abby Smith protested: since they couldn’t vote, this was taxation without representation. After the sisters’ cows were confiscated, the American Woman Suffrage Association and newspapers nationwide took up the story. 32 pages.
The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence written by Judith St. George; illus. by Will Hillenbrand (Philomel)
An amiable account reveals how war, celebration, and misguided preservation efforts forced the removal of the Declaration of Independence from place to place. Bright mixed-media illustrations borrow from the conventions of old political cartoons. 48 pages.
So You Want to Be President? written by Judith St. George; illus. by David Small (Philomel)
Arranging historical tidbits in an attractive buffet, this witty book offers anecdotes both cautionary and guaranteed to attract attention and arouse interest. Appended are brief biographical sketches of the presidents and a short bibliography. 53 pages.
You’re on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt written by Judith St. George; illus. by Matt Faulkner (Philomel)
This biography of Roosevelt’s childhood concentrates on his bouts with ill health, his father’s strong influence, and his own tenaciousness. The lively pace of the narrative is further animated by gouache illustrations with near-caricatures of young Teedie. 48 pages.
Abe Lincoln’s Dream by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook)
While visiting the White House, a girl spies the pacing ghost of Abraham Lincoln. He confesses he worries about how the country fares now. As the two take a spectacular flight Washington DC, they discuss the nation as a work still in progress. 32 pages.
Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote written by Tanya Lee Stone; illus. by Rebecca Gibbon (Holt)
Easy-to-read text sets the nineteenth-century stage for modern readers: “What would you do if someone told you you can’t be what you want to be because you are a girl?” Folksy illustrations emphasize women’s traditional roles and the growing demand for change. 32 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Candlewick)
108 writers and artists take readers on a virtual tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The voices and images, roughly chronological, recognize those living inside and others observing from the outside. 242 pages.
Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy by Ilene Cooper (Dutton)
This revealing portrait of JFK’s youth ends with his graduation from high school. Domestic details and family photos give a sense of everyday life in the Kennedy household. An afterword sketches his adult life, his presidency, and his assassination. 168 pages.
Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered written by Barry Denenberg; illus. by Christopher Bing (Feiwel)
An invented newspaper memorial of Lincoln’s death offers archival photographs, maps, and portraits that mimic period engravings. Beautifully integrating content and form, this engrossing oversized book serves both browsers and researchers well. 40 pages.
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Reproductions of primary sources, both textual and visual, and an abundance of interesting anecdotes make for perfect browsing. Mary’s story is given equal weight, offering greater insight into each of the Lincolns and a fuller picture of their world. 181 pages.
Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life by Candace Fleming (Atheneum)
This richly rendered account of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt is both unabashed tribute and absorbing history. Scrapbooks, diaries, and copious primary and secondary sources inform the loosely chronological text. 176 pages.
Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
The lasting friendship between Lincoln and Douglass offers a glimpse into the tenor of the times regarding slavery, abolition, the Civil War, and emancipation. Period illustrations and a generous assortment of the subjects’ own words are included. 119 pages.
Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Russell Freedman (Holiday)
Patrick Henry’s declamation provides the theme for this tapestry of political observations, character interpretations, and popular sentiments. An accessible, appealing style and a handsome design make for an inspiring read. 90 pages.
Father Abraham: Lincoln and His Sons by Harold Holzer (Boyds/Calkins)
This examination of family events, with Lincoln’s role as father at the center, is a strong addition to Lincoln lore. The account concludes with the last surviving Lincoln (Bob Beckwith, d. 1985). Ample photographs add interest. 231 pages.
Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the Amercian Spirit by Betsy Harvey Kraft (Clarion)
A strong narrative conveys Roosevelt’s robust personality. His own words and those of his contemporaries (accompanied by archival reproductions) portray both Roosevelt and early-twentieth-century American society. 180 pages.
Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought) written by Kathleen Krull; illus. by Kathryn Hewitt (Houghton)
New ed. This informative and humorous look at the personalities behind the public figures of our forty-four presidents describes the daily lives, interests, quirks, and habits of these iconic men with a slightly gossipy style. 104 pages.
Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family written by Shannon Lanier and Jane Feldman; photographs by Jane Feldman (Random)
DNA evidence linking Jefferson to the children of his slave Sally Hemings had varying effects on those claiming to be his descendants. Personal statements (based on interviews by the authors) capture observations ranging from delight to disbelief. 144 pages.
The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution by Jim Murphy (Scholastic)
An overview of 1776′s multiple military disasters—notes the colonists’ loss of confidence—leads to Washington’s climactic crossing of the Delaware River and defeat of the British at Trenton and Princeton. Maps and artwork reproductions accompany the text. 96 pages.
Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
The children and teenagers who participated in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery offer their perspective. Their recollections perfectly balance and complement information about the adults that typically dominate historical accounts. 72 pages.
Abe’s Honest Words written by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion)
Spare language describes turning points in Lincoln’s life, accompanied by excerpts from his speeches. Some of the handsome portraits glow with background light and luminous tones; at other times, they portray an unassuming man. 48 pages.
John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story by Judith St. George (Holiday)
This absorbing portrait of a remarkable relationship humanizes the Adamses and fleshes out complicated social and political events. An inviting design features well-placed and -captioned black-and-white illustrations. 147 pages.
Picturing Lincoln: Famous Photographs That Popularized the President by George Sullivan (Clarion)
Since photographs were difficult to duplicate, engravers primarily used five of the 130 known photos of Lincoln to create new images—typically with artistic license. Both the process and the resulting images are explored in this fascinating account. 88 pages.
Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World written by Douglas Wood; illus. by Barry Moser (Candlewick)
In December 1941, Churchill spent the holidays with Roosevelt. They formed an alliance to fight the Axis Powers and crafted a charter for the United Nations. A few humorous anecdotes add levity to this otherwise solemn snapshot of a moment in history. 40 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up
George Washington: An Illustrated Biography by David A. Adler (Holiday)
A well-researched and thoughtfully structured account dispels myth, explores many aspects of Washington’s personality and character, and covers his evolving attitudes as a slaveholder. 274 pages.
Countdown to Independence: A Revolution of Ideas in England and Her American Colonies: 1760-1776 by Natalie S. Bober (Atheneum)
Thirty-five brief chapters alternate between Britain and the colonies from 1760 to July 2, 1776, the decision of Independence. Meticulous research yields lesser known anecdotes about important figures and colorful characters. 342 pages.
Up Close: Theodore Roosevelt by Michael L. Cooper (Viking)
This rousing biography focuses on Roosevelt as husband, father, politician, adventurer, and champion of progressive government. Roosevelt’s post-presidency, a period often presented as a near-footnote in many biographies, is given special consideration. 208 pages.
Theodore Roosevelt: Larger than Life by Matt Donnelly (Linnet)
Familiar stories present Roosevelt the politician, the dedicated scholar, and the principled reformer. These accounts are tempered with a look at a political animal who shrewdly chose a career in public service. 184 pages.
In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman (Holiday)
A friendly tone outlines historical background that informed the original writing for each amendment, provides an overview of controversial aspects, and discusses landmark cases. 196 pages.
George Washington and the Founding of a Nation by Albert Marrin (Dutton)
This reliable biography presents a remarkable man and considers the social, economic, and political forces that shaped him. Familiar facts are given new vitality with additional information in a well-crafted, information-packed text. 276 pages.
The Great Adventure: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America by Albert Marrin (Dutton)
This cradle-to-grave biography addresses Roosevelt’s strengths, weaknesses, and ambiguities while examining social, political, and international conditions that reverberate in contemporary political life. 248 pages.
Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People by Albert Marrin (Dutton)
This biography intentionally shows its subject’s contradictions, allowing readers to judge the worth of Jackson the man and measure the value of Jackson the general and president. Archival photographs, source notes, and suggestions for additional reading are included. 262 pages.
For selections from The Horn Book Guide on government, politics, and leaders, please see the October 2012 Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book entry.