This month, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States for his second term, making this an opportune moment to teach children about U.S. politics — both the development of our democratic system and the ways that process could shape their future. These recent books, recommended by The Horn Book Guide, are excellent choices for educating the elementary-age set about America’s political history, its leaders, and the significance of patriotism.
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide
Alexander, Elizabeth Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
32 pp. HarperCollins/Tegen 2012 ISBN 978-0-06-192663-1
Gr. K–3 Illustrated by David Diaz. A mother and son travel through a luminous American landscape as the words of the poem celebrating President Obama’s first inauguration reverberate throughout the book. There are no explanations here for the reader, just strong images and strong words: “On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, / praise song for walking forward in that light.”
Bates, Katharine Lee America the Beautiful: Together We Stand
32 pp. Scholastic/Orchard 2013 ISBN 978-0-545-49207-2
Gr. K–3 Ten renowned illustrators, including Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, and Diane Goode, bring the words of “America the Beautiful” to life; each striking spread also presents an inspirational presidential quote in the side margin. Informative back matter includes a key to national landmarks and symbols; full lyrics; a note on democracy; and biographical information on Bates, author of the poem-turned-patriotic-ballad.
Daugherty, James Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: A Pictorial Interpretation Painted by James Daugherty
48 pp. Whitman 2013 ISBN 978-0-8075-4550-8 New ed. (1947, Whitman)
Gr. 4–6 Daugherty powerfully illustrates Lincoln’s momentous Gettysburg Address. This updated edition includes a new afterword by historian Gabor Boritt that provides an overview of the days surrounding the 1863 speech. Daugherty’s emotive paintings — discussed one by one in an appendix — include allusions to other profound American moments, such as then-recent WWII, grounding Lincoln’s words within our nation’s larger history.
Gherman, Beverly First Mothers
64 pp. Clarion 2012 ISBN 978-0-547-22301-8
Gr. K–3 Illustrated by Julie Downing. This book provides a fascinating perspective on U.S. presidents by focusing on the personalities and influences of their mothers. Each mom has her own section, descriptive epithet (e.g., Barbara Pierce Bush: “The Outspoken Mother”), amusing anecdote, and cartoonlike portrait; sidebars in varying formats contain important dates and facts. Gherman’s engaging text offers vivid characterization of these historic women and their powerful sons. Bib.
Keating, Frank George: George Washington, Our Founding Father
32 pp. Simon/Wiseman 2012 ISBN 978-1-4169-5482-8
Gr. K–3 Illustrated by Mike Wimmer. This picture book biography provides a unique glimpse into Washington’s life and career, from childhood to his role in the American Revolution to his presidency. The first-person narration and supplemental quotations from his “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation” present an insightful introduction to the Founding Father’s character. Lush oil on canvas paintings add weight and drama. Bib.
Kerley, Barbara Those Rebels, John & Tom
48 pp. Scholastic 2012 ISBN 978-0-545-22268-6
Gr. 4–6 Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Kerley lightly outlines the commonalities and differences between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. There’s some oversimplification (e.g., taxation is mentioned as a problem, while lack of representation is not), but the text is lively and informative. Fotheringham’s lighthearted illustrations, in various shades of red, white, and blue, dominate each page and reinforce the tone. An author’s note and facsimile of the Declaration of Independence are included. Bib.
Smith, Charles R., Jr. Brick by Brick
32 pp. HarperCollins/Amistad 2013 ISBN 978-0-06-192082-0
Gr. K–3 Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In powerful verse that emphasizes the subjects’ dedication and hard work, Smith relates slaves’ contributions to the building of the White House in 1792; their labor provided many with trade skills, which then allowed them to “purchase freedom / earned brick by brick.” Cooper’s soft-focus sepia-toned art showing “black hands / white hands” working together on the historic project bolsters the inspirational story.
Next time: Novels in Verse
From the January/February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, click here.