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"You can be president"

patricia-and-fredrick-mckissackSunday dinner in our family is a time for sharing food and ideas. One night, we discussed the upcoming presidential election. We ended by saying to each of our three sons, “You can be president.” Spontaneously, the oldest, Fred Jr., stood up, burst forth with a full chorus of “Hail to the Chief,” and declared himself president by self-proclamation. We took the cue and responded by becoming the press corps. We fired questions at him about things we thought would concern a teenage president. Fred Jr. held his own, but he had to do a lot of hedging, because he was uninformed and unprepared about many of the issues we raised. He knew he could do better. His brothers, Robert and John, couldn’t join in the questioning, because they weren’t prepared, either.

The following Sunday, at their request, we again played, “You can be president.” This time, Fred Jr. was ready. Much to our surprise, he responded quickly and with hard data. We couldn’t believe it, but we kept our mouths shut and kept playing.

Next, the twins wanted their turns at being president. Each was just as enthusiastic about expressing his ideas and solutions to the questions we posed.

When the cycle went around several times, the boys were ready to take the game to its next phase. John suggested that we become presidents from the past and future. Robert chose John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman. John, who was a Star Trek fan, was elected President of the Earth in the year 3060 A.C. (After Consolidation) when we were part of a Galactic Federation of Planets.

To prepare themselves, they read history, biography, sci-fi, historical fiction, newspapers, and magazines, and used their imaginations. Our Sunday evening news conferences with the presidents were always intense, informative, and a whole lot of fun.

Without realizing it, our sons were learning how to express themselves clearly and concisely, solve problems, and think critically. They also embraced reading as a lifetime endeavor and not a chore. If your children can read but won’t — don’t panic. Find out what interests them and start there. Hey, tell them they can be president. Something magical might happen.

From the March/April 1997 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

To commemorate Black History Month, we are highlighting a series of articles, speeches, and reviews from The Horn Book archive that are by and/or about African American authors, illustrators, and luminaries in the field — one a day through the month of February, with a roundup on Fridays. Click the tag HBBlackHistoryMonth17 and look for #HBBlackHistoryMonth17 on Facebook.com/TheHornBook and @HornBook. You can find more resources about social justice and activism at our Talking About Race and Making a Difference resource pages.

The Horn Book celebrates Black History Month


Patricia and Fredrick McKissack
Patricia and Fredrick McKissack
Patricia and Fredrick McKissack have written more than one hundred books about the African American experience.

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