With the Inauguration coming up, a lot of us will be watching and following the day’s events on TV. That also means a lot of questions from curious kids about…well, all kinds of things. There are a lot of books that talk about politics for kids, but my own girls have been enjoying What Does the President Look Like?, an original book that describes presidential history through the lens (no pun intended) of media and technology through the years.
Author and political historian Jane Hampton Cook’s premise is that while we’re all familiar with President Obama’s face from TV and YouTube
and digital photos, before any of those, there were different ways
that we formed perceptions about our leaders and learned what they looked like.
She takes us through time with random trivia and fun facts, from George Washington’s portraits and the
political cartoons of the 18th century, to the importance of
photography in Lincoln’s election, the movie newsreels of the 1930’s,
and even the Nixon-Kennedy TV debates.
Adam Ziskie’s illustrations are artoony
but evocative, in a muted palate of earth tones, and not only
bring the ideas to life, it makes the whole thing kind of cool for
tweens who might be over the idea of picture books.
complaint is that the book needs more book. Kids about 7 and up who will
be interested in this kind of topic in the first place can handle a book you don’t read in
one sitting. The historic gaps are a little random: Nixon’s election is
mentioned but not his impeachment. Oddly, the 1980s don’t come up at
all, even as the 24-hour news channels came into existence. And the only
mention of President Clinton is that he launched whitehouse.gov–unusual considering his infamous MTV interview and saxophone
solo on the Arsenio Hall show were notable (and fun facts!) as far as a candidate’s use
of mass media to reach a younger voter. In fact, George Bush’s dog
Barney gets more ink. (Though I can’t say for sure whether
that has to do with the author’s previous job working as webmaster in
the Bush White House.)
Still, my kids really enjoyed learning a
little here and there about the presidents, and the best part is that it
inspired us to go look up more stories on our own, guided by what they
found most interesting. Who’d have believed they really wanted to look
up pictures of Grover Cleveland. -Liz
Find What Does the President Look Like? by Jane Hampton Cook and Adam Ziskie online at our affiliate Amazon.