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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, February 17, 2008

Presidents Still Getting Votes in Literary Race

In this month when we honor the birthdays of two extraordinary presidents, it seems fitting to look at recently published children's books honoring those who have served as our nation's executive. Hail to the chiefs!

With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth looming large next year, we can expect a bevy of publications celebrating his life and legacy. One of the first to arrive is Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln, written by veteran children's author Judith St. George.

The author believes there was a deciding moment in each president's early years that steered him on the course of his future accomplishments. That event in Lincoln's life was the death of his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and his father's subsequent marriage to Sarah (Sally) Bush Johnston.

Even though Sally brought her own three children to the marriage, she took to Abe, the gangly boy with the unruly mop of hair, and loved him as her own. Illiterate herself, she encouraged Abe's schooling, even asking him to read to her every night.

According to St. George, "it wasn't that Abe forgot his own mother. He didn't. But Sally's belief in Abe's future promise ... gave him the space to grow and learn beyond his hardscrabble backwoods beginnings." Matt Faulkner's exuberant gouache paintings nicely complement this picture book biography.

In The Ghost, the White House, and Me, KayKay and Annie Granger, the daughters of recently elected President Granger, just can't wait to find out if the ghost of Abraham Lincoln walks the halls of the White House. This deliciously spooky and funny mystery, also by Judith St. George, revolves around a sleepover in the famous Lincoln Bedroom waiting for the ghost to appear.

The girls, not exactly the bravest of the brave, have mustered all their courage to wait and wait, until ... "(There was a) figure standing in the doorway ... Abraham Lincoln! It can't be ... there is no such thing as ghosts. Yet here he is ... then the figure raises his arm and beckons ..."

Will they survive their fright? Is it all a joke? Join the fun and find out.

Cowboy. Soldier. Rough Rider. Adventurer. Statesman. President. Author. Environmentalist. Nobel Peace Prize winner. This man did it all! In Cheryl Harness's The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America, readers are treated to the biography of the man "bigger than life" itself: a man who was born into a life of privilege, yet enjoyed simple pleasures.

From sickly child to robust outdoorsman, Teddy's life spanned from the Civil War through the years following World War I. Known for her meticulous attention to detail, Harness punctuates her very readable text with numerous pen-and-ink sketches. Educators take note: a running timeline at the bottom of each page provides a year-by-year commentary of significant world events that occurred during Teddy's lifetime. Bully!

Lest we forget George ... author and watercolorist Don Brown's Dolley Madison Saves George Washington is a wonderful account of the First Lady's bravery during the War of 1812. While the British were burning the city around her, stalwart Dolley managed to save Gilbert Stuart's famed portrait of George Washington.

Ordering two President's Mansion (White House) servants to "(shatter) the wood with a hatchet and (free) the painting," she saved a priceless piece of Americana. Not bad for a lady known primarily for her political soirees and trend-setting wardrobe.

Carol Banks is youth and teen collection specialist for the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. Contact her at (812) 428-8000 ext. 1256. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.