Review of The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents
by Kate Messner; illus. by Adam Rex
Primary    Chronicle    48 pp.
3/20    978-1-4521-7488-4    $18.99

“No matter who holds the job right now, the presidents of tomorrow are always out there somewhere.” There are picture books aplenty about United States presidents, but make way for this breath of fresh air. Messner presents brief profiles of each one through a particular lens: starting in 1789 with George Washington, she makes her way down the timeline to the current day, looking at which future presidents were alive when each predecessor served and what they were doing at the time. For instance, when Washington served, nine future presidents were already alive, though Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor were still children. We often see more than one president at a time as we move through decades, accompanied by text boxes imparting relatable or little-known facts. Rex breathes life into these illustrations, showing the humanity absent from official portraits. Each president pictured is tagged with a number on these busy but never cluttered spreads so that we always know who’s who. And Messner doesn’t sugarcoat or whitewash history: “Most [of America’s earliest presidents] were wealthy, white, Protestant men,” she writes, and she notes that while Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” he himself owned slaves. The mood turns to awe-inspiring at the close, when we read that “at least ten of our future presidents are probably alive today,” the art here showing an inclusive group of children and adults at a museum of presidents, gazing hopefully into the unknown, “getting ready to lead.” Back matter includes a substantial bibliography.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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