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Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out Hardcover – September 9, 2008
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Our White House: Looking in, Looking Out is an astounding collection featuring more than 100 award-winning children's book authors and illustrators. It is much more than a history about the home and office of U.S. presidents and their families. Commissioned by the National Children's Book and Literary Alliance, this stunning picture book transcends the bounds of educational textbook, or any particular genre, for that matter. It includes essays by historians and well-known nonfiction writers (like David McCullough), fictional stories, poetry (including a memorable poem about Lincoln and a butterfly by Kate DiCamillo), imagined letters to the president, texts of actual speeches, memoir (including an essay by Linda Johnson Robb about the eerie history of a White House room where she once stayed), transcripts of TV interviews, and clever games such as a "Best in Show" presidential pet contest and a "Who's in the House?" presidential board game. Among the book's most captivating features are the "illustration essays" which feature stories or ideas rendered completely through pictures. Notable examples include David Small's sketch journal "Backstairs at the White House,"depicting all the people who work in the house and keep it running, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech illustrated by Calef Brown, Peter Sis, Ed Young, and Stephen Alcorn.
Our White House will likely be a favorite of children--and adults-who love presidential trivia, historical facts, and old stories. Children who weren't White House buffs already will surely be drawn into this colorful, fun history of an iconic building that simultaneously tells the story of the United States. (Ages 9 to 12) --Heidi Broadhead
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Eight years in the making, this anthology of White House history convenes an all-star roster of 108 children's authors and illustrators, as well as a few scholars and former White House employees and residents�and it is a blue-ribbon choice for family sharing during an election year. Chronologically ordered, the entries range from poems to presidential speeches, satirical cartoons to stately portraits; despite the talents of the literary contributors (Kate DiCamillo offers a poem about Lincoln's death, Patricia MacLachlan describes Eleanor Roosevelt's rescue of a cat belonging to a young girl), perhaps the most striking writings are those that most closely adhere to the historical record. Barbara Kerley details Thomas Jefferson's passion for paleontology, and M.T. Anderson describes White House ghosts (Churchill, visited by a spectral Lincoln, �tapped the ash off the end of his cigar and said, 'Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage' �). But few of the writers create the same impact as the occasional document: Robert Kennedy addresses the nation after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, and Richard Nixon bids farewell to the White House staff. (That young readers will react to these documents is in no small part due to the writers' success in establishing the contexts for them.) Among the most provocative entries are works by artists who �look in� on the White House with a demonstrably personal vision: David Small shares color sketches of �backstairs at the White House,� a study in contrasts; Bob Kolar arranges the presidents as if on a board game, with clever annotations (who knew President Arthur held a yard sale while in office?); Peter S�s supplies 37 characteristically enigmatic portraits to illustrate freedom to worship. Although a few entries seem formulaic, the volume makes the invaluable point that history does not have to be remote or abstract, but a personal and ongoing engagement.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Well, "Our White House" is a colossal project compared with "Bear" and I was pleased after reading all of its more than 200 pages to conclude that even in large-scale, long-form projects, the Candlewick team hasn't lost their impish sense of storytelling.
I say that because this is a weighty project. More than 100 top names in American history, arts and literature contributed to this coffee-table book for families. Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough is here along with Jimmy Carter, Charles Dickens and Walt Whitman. These are heavy names. This is a big book. It could have turned out as dull as one of those bronze statues in D.C. that people barely notice anymore.
Here's what I like about the book and why I think it's timely with our American role in the world called into question in so many ways: This book dares to have fun with America's enduring capacity for creativity. And that is an important spiritual lesson right now.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson defied naysayers in personally helping to popularize the tomato? He did. He cultivated them and ate them both fresh and cooked. Today, who could imagine American cuisine without tomatoes?
Did you know that the Lebanese-American journalist Helen Thomas opened doors at the White House to female journalists? She did. And she did it by first cultivating coverage of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a major barrier breaker herself.
Did you know it was a White House Executive Order in 1903 that kick started the national preservation of our wilderness and wildlife? It was. Teddy Roosevelt was behind it and, more than likely, his family's love of wildlife -- including a crazy array of pets in the White House -- played a role in saving some of our most precious natural areas.
Families will have a lot of fun sharing individual two- and three-page stories from the book. And it's not only a collection of stories. There are poems here, too, and letters. Some of the lavish illustrations are worthy a good bedtime story by themselves.