cover image IF THE WALLS COULD TALK: Family Life at the White House

IF THE WALLS COULD TALK: Family Life at the White House

Jane O'Connor, , illus. by Gary Hovland. . S&S/Wiseman, $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-689-86863-4

A real estate ad for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on the opening page sets the tone of O'Connor's (The Emperor's Silent Army ) anecdotal, chronological rundown of the White House's inhabitants, highlighting facts and trivia related to the residence. In his picture-book debut, editorial cartoonist Hovland creates impressive likenesses of the Commanders-in-Chief, whether one per page, or several to a spread, and incorporates many of their quotes about their home, both admiring and pejorative ("It's a glamorous prison," quipped Harry Truman) in cartoon-like speech balloons. The author cites both milestones—the White House burned down during James Madison's presidency; Rutherford B. Hayes installed the first telephone ("Our phone number was 1," announces his wife)—and lighthearted tidbits: William McKinley's wife banned the color yellow from the residence; JFK had the lawn spray-painted green if it looked dry when expecting important guests. Hovland bolsters the text's spirited humor with his jovial caricatures and cheerful scenarios; one especially comical scene pictures large-scale William Taft carrying a triple-decker sandwich and climbing into an enormous bathtub with two rubber duckies. The account is light on contemporary presidents (the latest six share one spread) and some toss-off remarks will puzzle younger readers (e.g., "There were may scandals while Harding was president"), but O'Connor compiles much entertaining and amusing information, sure to send aspiring historians off to seek more. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)