Children's Features

Publishing Politics
Sally Lodge -- 9/4/00
Election year ushers in a panoply of kids' books with presidential themes

Three from the current crop of
politically focused books.
Now that Governor Bush and Vice President Gore have received the all-important nod from their respective parties, the race is on. And as the men who would be president vie on the campaign trail, a number of children's publishers are throwing their hats into the ring and have recently released--or will issue in the coming months--books focusing on the electoral process or on former residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. PW's polling of publishers turned up the following titles that fit that Bill (or George or Al).
The very first U.S. president is the subject of a duet of books. Albert Marrin's George Washington & The Founding of a Nation chronicles the life and times of this leader who became "the first in the hearts of his countrymen." Period art illustrates this fall hardcover from Dutton.

When this founding father was 14 years old, one of his teachers--or perhaps his father--reportedly handed him a list of 110 rules to live by, which the lad then wrote down in his own hand and kept with him for the rest of his life. Accompanied by translations into contemporary jargon, these "rules of civility and decent behavior" are collected in George-isms, a small-format hardcover released by Atheneum in August.

George Washington is also among the correspondents represented inDear Young Friend: The Letters of American Presidents to Childrenby Stanley Weintraub and Rodelle Weintraub. This October book from Stackpole collects letters that presidents have written to their own offspring and to other youngsters, touching upon topics personal, political and fanciful. Into the last category falls John F. Kennedy's reply to a boy who had asked this president whether or not leprechauns are real: "If you really believe, you will see them," wrote JFK.
Sally Lodge reveals how one New England bookseller raises kids' political consciences
Click Here for more!

Fictional letters between presidents and youngsters are the focal point of Dear Mr. President, a new series from Winslow Press that launches this fall with Theodore Roosevelt: Letters from a Young Coal Minerand Thomas Jefferson: Letters from a Philadelphia Bookworm. Jennifer Armstrong is the author of both volumes, which contain biographical notes on the presidents as well as footnotes that encourage readers to visit the series's Web site for additional information on various topics.

A portrait of the thousand days that John F. Kennedy's own children spent in the presidential residence emerges in When John & Caroline Lived in the White Houseby Laurie Coulter. Familiar and never-before-published photographs fill this poignant reminiscence, just out from Hyperion.

Another first family is at the center of Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family, which profiles the descendents of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. A collaboration between Shannon Lanier, an African American who is a member of this extended family, and photographer Jane Feldman, this September hardcover from Random House includes time lines, family trees and historical documents. Jefferson also plays a pivotal role in another September title, this one from Holiday House: Russell Freedman's Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence. Credited as the author of this 1776 document, 33-year-old Jefferson wrote the first draft secluded in rented rooms in Philadelphia, where he was attending the Continental Congress.

Tales of Many Chiefs
Of the handful of recently issued books that take a more general look at the American presidency, two bear the DK imprint. Added to the Eyewitness Books series in April was Presidentsby James Barber, published in association with the Smithsonian Institution. Profiling the chief executives from Washington to Clinton, the book features copious photographs and illustrations. Also spotlighting each of this country's 42 presidents is DK's "To the Best of My Ability": The American Presidents, an August release. Pulitzer Prize-winner James M. McPherson is the general editor of this 480-page tome that collects essays by various members of the Society of American Historians.

More anecdotal in nature is a pair of books that aim to inform as they entertain. Judith St. George takes a lighthearted, behind-the-scenes look at the foibles, quirks and lifestyles of various presidents in So You Want to Be President? Caldecott Honor artist David Small contributes spirited illustrations to this August Philomel hardcover. Don Robb celebrates some highlights of various presidents' terms in Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency, due in September from Charlesbridge. Art by Alan Witschonke illustrates this compilation of facts, statistics and trivia.

A quartet of titles will not go to press until the identity of the next occupant of the Oval Office is known. Beatrice Gormley has penned two biographies, one of each presidential nominee, tentatively titled either President George W. Bush: Our Forty-Third Presidentor President Albert Gore, Jr.: Our Forty-Third President. On November 14, Aladdin will release one of these chronicles as a paperback original. S&S will also publish this title as an e-book that will appear online at 12:01 a.m. on November 8 and will cost $5 to download. Also awaiting election results are publishers of two revised and updated volumes, both of which will contain information about the 43rd U.S. president: Running Press's The New Big Book of U.S. Presidentsby Marc Frey and Todd Davis, and Wyatt Blassingame's The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents, a Random House title.

Random House will also roll out a new volume, The Look-It-Up Book of First Ladiesby S.A. Kramer, which will include a profile of the first lady of this millennium. Hillary Clinton is one of five women whose portrait graces the cover of this book, yet her husband did not make the cut for the similarly designed cover of the companion title.

Though Hillary d s not appear in the pages ofLives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought), the publicity folk at Harcourt are hoping to gain some marketing mileage should her bid for the U.S. Senate be successful. Among the 20 civilians, royals and elected officials Kathleen Krull profiles in this eclectic tribute to extraordinary women are Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Harriet Tubman, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Eva Perón. Only one former first lady--Eleanor Roosevelt--is included in this August release, illustrated with watercolor and colored-ink portraits by Kathryn Hewitt.

The process by which the president of the United States is elected is the subject of two recent paperbacks. Released by Aladdin in July was Dan Gutman's Landslide!: A Kid's Guide to the U.S. Elections, which presents information in a question-and-answer format. And Syl Sobel's Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, a Barron's release, addresses such topics as who can run for president and who is eligible to vote.

Motivating teens to become involved politically, whether or not they are old enough to vote, is one of Sara Jane Boyers's missions in Teen Power Politics: Make Yourself Heard, due in October from Millbrook Press. This paperback details the history of voting rights in the U.S., describes the electoral process and profiles teen activists who have let their voices be heard on a variety of issues.

Finally, humor is at the heart of a pair of books introducing rather unorthodox politicians of particular interest to kids. Election month will bring Overlook Press's hardcover reissue of Walter R. Brooks's Freddy the Politician, in which this good-natured pig promotes a campaign to get Mrs. Wiggins, a cow, elected president of the First Animal Republic. And the star of Nickelodeon's animated HeyArnold! show learns how fourth-grade democracy works when he makes a bid for class president in Craig Bartlett'sArnold for President, just released under the Simon Spotlight/Nickelodeon imprint.

Though featuring a variety of formats, focal points and writing styles, these books have something in common other than their political themes: they're all in the race for prominent placement on bookstore shelves--and perhaps even a slot on bestseller lists. But which of these books will reach the winner's circle? Well, we're stumped. Guess it's time for the under-18 crowd to cast their ballots.

New England Bookseller Raises
Kids' Political Consciences

In the heart of New Hampshire, historically a crucial state to any candidate's presidential bid, one bookstore has jumped onto the political bandwagon well ahead of the election. To tie into the media hoopla surrounding the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover in midsummer created in its children's section a prominent endcap display of books devoted to the electoral process, to the history of the presidency and to the individuals who have served in this office. "The conventions were such a big topic in the news at that point that we felt the timing was right to begin generating interest in the election very early," explained Alison Morris, comanager and cobuyer in the store's children's department.The display, which the store kept up for about three weeks and will reconstruct in a similar fashion as the November election draws closer, included both frontlist and backlist books. Though Morris observed that no single title stood out as a faster seller than the others, she stated that books on the electoral system in general were of high interest to the international tourists who are frequent visitors to the bookstore during the summer months. "Children's books on this topic are an ideal fit for visitors from other countries who are curious about the American electoral process," she said, "since they are more easily able to understand an English-language book that is aimed at middle graders rather than adults."
Morris also mentioned several books featured in the display that customers found especially eye-catching. Philomel's So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George is among these, she reported, and credited a lively text, paired with illustrator David Small's effective caricatures of presidents, and the publisher's inventive promotion. This entailed placing a ballot box by the display of the book, in which youngsters dropped their entries for a contest whose prizes include a trip to Washington, D.C., and a school visit by Small. Many parents were drawn to the nostalgic quality of a new Hyperion release, When John & Caroline Lived in the White House, Laurie Coulter's look at the Kennedy presidency from the perspective of these siblings' lives. "Though this and other books often caught the attention of parents first," Morris remarked, "the adults then would involve their children in a discussion of the topic or the individuals concerned. We found that this display evoked quite a bit of parent-child dialogue."
Was it at all evident, from any comments she overheard, which current presidential candidate was foremost in the hearts of the store's customers? "Not really," Morris replied, "since these books largely highlight past presidents and the history of voting, but don't feature specifically the candidates of the 2000 election. Our summer tourist customers did voice varied opinions. We're in an interesting position here, since New Hampshire is a decidedly Republican state, while Hanover is largely Democratic."
And though she admitted that she and some of the store's other employees have strong leanings toward Gore as their choice of candidate, Morris made it very clear that the store equally displays and promotes books touting politicians from both parties. "After all, our business manager is a big fan of Bush," she confided, "so we do make a point of walking the fence carefully." Clearly, on all counts, a politically correct stance.
--Sally Lodge