Ghosts of the White House

Cheryl Harness, Author
Cheryl Harness, Author Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-0-689-80872-2
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Harness (Three Young Pilgrims; The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal) again takes an edifying look back at American history through a fictional lens. Here her angle is almost too whimsical: a girl tours the White House on a class field trip, and George Washington pulls her into his portrait, offering to be her guide through the mansion. Each room then becomes a stage set on which various presidential ""ghosts"" share anecdotal information about their lives and administrations; sidebars succinctly present highlights of the former presidents' reigns. Readers more comfortable with neatly ordered, chronological history lessons may be at sea here, since Harness's fanciful presentation has presidents who lived in different eras hobnobbing and conversing, and occasionally it's quite a challenge to discern the identity of the speakers. Though the author sometimes links the chief executives by tenuous themes--their backgrounds, roles in wars, events that occurred in specific White House rooms (Fillmore, who opened Japan, and Nixon, who opened China, stand united in the China Room)--at other times her groupings seem random and the remarks of the historical figures inane (""Well, Sara, I'm mighty glad the General plucked you out for the grand tour,"" says Lincoln). More recent presidents get short shrift (the last five are set in a box on the last page). Still, there is plenty of fun trivia here about the White House (e.g., it has 32 bathrooms; Washington's pal, the Marquis de Lafayette, kept his pet alligator in the East Room) and a timeline helps readers make sense of the mishmash of presidents. Ages 7-10. (Jan.)
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