Reference & Creative Nonfiction Kids | Illustrated Stories
Also available in eBook formats
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Review originally published on 5/8/15
Kid Presidents is an illustrated children’s book of true tales of childhood from America’s presidents, featuring stories written by David Stabler and illustrated by Doogie Horner. It covers all of the presidents (and Grover Cleveland twice, because he served two separate terms in the White House!) in short blurbs, if not in full stories. While most of the stories are fairly trivial anecdotes (as is true with the stories of most children’s lives), they are largely tales that the general public hasn’t heard, with a focus on stories carrying a message for young readers. Herbert Hoover learns tolerance and overcoming differences by living with the Osage Indians:
Gerald Ford learns to control his temper from a Rudyard Kipling poem:
and John F. Kennedy learns about competition and acceptance through a bullying big brother. For the most part, the messages are good, the stories are fun, and even the adults will learn a bunch of new presidential history.
The crowning achievement of this book, though — besides its absolutely adorable hardcover packaging, ranging from the patriotic red, white, and blue color schemes, to titles looking like presidential banners, to fonts looking like Wanted posters from the Old West frontier — is the illustrations. You can “See Spread” on Quirk Books’ book page at the link above for a 20-page sampling of the book, and I urge you to do so. You’ll get only a fraction of the idea of the cuteness of these pictures, and the jokes shown in them that are clearly little Easter eggs for the adult readers, but you’ll still be able to see what I mean. The detail in the illustrations — the expressions on the tiny faces — is just superb. (Trust me, they look way better than my cameraphone pictures show in the samples above.)
I think the only downside that some parents might find unappealing is that an overwhelming majority of the stories are about the presidents getting in trouble in some way, or causing trouble, or being bullies, or doing something that they weren’t supposed to do:
Grover Cleveland used to sneak out at night and pull gates off people’s fences.
While on a bicycling tour of Germany, fourteen-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt got arrested four times in one day. He ran over a goose, picked cherries from a tree without permission, parked his bike at a train station, and was cited for cycling after sunset.
And even though each story is wrapped up with a “So you shouldn’t do this and this and this” message, the overarching theme can come off a little bit like, “See, all the presidents were dicks and grew up to be president! You can be a dick, too, kids, and good things will still come to you!” If you’re someone who views history the way I do — that it’s neither good nor bad; it just is what it is, and that’s what we should learn, not some whitewashed version of it just because we’re uncomfortable with the tales it tells — then that won’t really bother you. If you’re someone whose child is already a troublemaker, however, then you might want to cherrypick the stories until the kid is older, or it could validate his bad behavior. Of course, the true moral of the story is that your child’s bad behavior will pass, too, as all things pass, becoming history itself, and that instilling the love of reading and history is far more important. For that, I dearly adore this book, and it’s a great way to wrap up Children’s Book Week.