Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So You Want To be President?

St. George, Judith. 2000. So You Want to be President? Ill. by David Small. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN 0399234071

Plot Summary
This book gives interesting facts about each of the American Presidents up to William (Bill) Clinton but not in a chronological order. The text discusses what the President's job involves, how they live, how they were reared, what they do for recreation, what their personalities are like and what they did (or will most be remembered for) as leader of America. The book also includes relevant quotations from some of the Presidents.

Critical Analysis
St. George includes interesting trivia in this book about the Presidents and tries to relate the President's life to the reader's life ("You probably weren't born in a log cabin. That's too bad. People are crazy about log-cabin Presidents. They elected eight"). The transition from one topic to the next is easy to follow because each page turned reveals a new topic. The writing creates a neat narrative of the Presidents' lives without being political. At times, St. George uses precise vocabulary (i.e., snatched), but she also uses more simplified vocabulary (i.e., mad) to tell the story.

David Small captures the caricatures of the Presidents through his art work. The faces on each drawing look so realistic (some resembled photographs that I've seen) and the subtle details included in the illustrations made me want to laugh. For example, when discussing the looks of the Presidents, there is a banner in the background stating, "Presidential Beauty Contest." Another picture that I found humorous was the page discussing the Vice-Presidents. Small created a stage where Ronald Reagan is front and center addressing the crowd. George H.W. Bush is behind the curtain with a sour expression on his face and every book, magazine and television close to him has Reagan's pictures on it. This shows the "backstage" role the Vice-President often plays. The pages are colorful; the illustrations are humorous and reinforce the text.

As I read this book to my four year old, she seemed bored because there was too much text and not enough page turning. I found the information interesting and the illustrations were terrific. With 47 pages, the book is longer than a traditional picture book. At the back of the book, I liked the "Featured Illustrations" page that identified the Presidents' pictures and the chronological listing of each President with a mini-biography.

One strength of the book is the accuracy of the information. Both St. George and Small researched the Presidents for the text and illustrations. There is a bibliography included at the end of the book, which is rarely found in children's "picture" books.

One weakness of the book is that it will not have the current or future Presidents in it unless there is a reprinting. I found that St. George did update this book in 2004. I think it would be costly to update this book after each Presidential election.

Review Excerpts
BOOKLIST: "The light tone of the books makes it possible for readers to absorb a great deal of information, some of it silly...that children still aspire to be President."
BOOKPAGE: "Young readers will come away from [this book] with the clear perception that the presidency is a tremendously important and challenging office, well worth seeking."
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "While the text exposes the human side of the individuals, the office of the presidency is ultimately treated with respect and dignity."

Use this book during a unit on American heroes, Presidents or the American Dream.

A companion book containing Presidential trivia is The Complete Book of Presidential Trivia by J. Stephen Lang. ISBN 1565548779
A fiction book that encourages youngsters to consider the Presidency is The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman. ISBN 0590939882

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