One-Minute Book Reviews

September 12, 2008

A Boy Runs for President of the U.S. in the Picture Book ‘President Pennybaker’

A young candidate campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire and other politically influential states after setting his sights on the White House

President Pennybaker. By Kate Feiffer. Illustrated by Diane Goode. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

It’s probably safe to say that many adults would find it easier explain to young children how babies are made than how U.S. presidents are made. Libraries and bookstores abound with good picture books on conception, pregnancy and birth. But how many show the importance of putting up posters, taking part in debates and campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Most authors seem to assume that presidential campaigns are too complex a topic for young children and that they may write only about elections that occur in school or neighborhood settings. These writers may be giving too little credit to their potential audience. Child psychologists tell us that children are aware of changes in their environment even if they don’t understand them. So they’ll notice if campaign signs are sprouting on lawns, Dad is wearing a shiny red-white-and-blue lapel button, or Mom is spending a lot of time on the telephone asking people she doesn’t know for money.

Kate Feiffer and Diane Goode cast a national election in terms young children can understand in President Pennybaker, the story of a boy who sets his sights on the White House after his father’s edicts convince him that life is unfair and that he can bring about his own form of social justice. Luke does many things that adult candidates do: He sets up a campaign office, puts up posters and solicits contributions. And as he travels to politically important states like Iowa and New Hampshire, he makes promises he’ll never be able to keep. Campaigning as the candidate of the Birthday Party, Luke vows that under his administration kids will get to eat cake and open gifts every day. After winning by a landslide, he realizes that he’s in over his head and resigns after a week on the job, leaving Oval Office to his hand-picked vice-president — his dog, Lily.

Goode leavens Feiffer’s somewhat abrupt ending with entertaining watercolors that set President Pennybaker mostly in the early 20th century — when voters tooled around in Model Ts – except for a few anachronisms such as television sets and a female governor of California. Her pictures also suggest some of the comedy in Luke’s serious motive for seeking the White House. In real life, when children ask their elders why people run for president, the adults tend to fall back on bromides like, “They want to make the world a better place.” That explanation is far too dull and abstract for many children. Luke’s rationale for his candidacy is likely to be much more appealing to its intended audience: Life is not fair. What 4- or 5-year old couldn’t relate that?

Best line/picture: All of Goode’s pictures show her flair for retro details, but Bruce Springsteen fans may especially like the page that shows Luke campaigning on “on the beach at the Jersey shore” in what looks like old Asbury Park.

Worst line/picture: Anachronisms such as the television set are clearly intentional and often amusing but weren’t essential to the story.

Recommendation? A good choice for parents who want to explain to young children why Dad starts swearing every time he sees a certain candidate on television. This book may especially interest schools and libraries in the places where Luke campaigns or whose elected officials are mentioned in it — the cities of Detroit, Cincinnati, New York and Washington, D.C., and the states of Iowa, Maine, Kansas, Colorado, California, New Jersey and New Hampshire.

Editor: Paula Wiseman

Published: August 2008 www.katefeiffer.com and www.dianegoode.com. Feiffer is a Massachusetts filmmaker who also wrote Henry the Dog With No Tail, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Goode is a New Jersey artist who won a Caldecott Honor for her art for Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains and also illustrated Mind Your Manners, a guide to table manners for young children www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/23/.

Furthermore: Click here to read about other new children’s books about elections, including Rosemary Wells’s Otto Runs for President www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 5, 2008

Children’s Storybooks About Elections, Presidential and Otherwise

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:13 pm
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I try never to miss Meghan Cox Gurdon’s fortnightly reviews of children’s books in the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal, and not just because they show consistently good taste and news judgment: Gurdon is a morally fearless critic who has the number of publishers who try to pass off patronizing twaddle as art. Here is the beginning her review of six storybooks about presidential politics in the Aug. 23–24 Journal:

“Parents keen to make presidential politics ‘relevant’ to their young children will find abundant help in 2008’s extra-large batch of campaign-themed storybooks. But will the tykes care? Children like a bit of fun in their picture books, yet the adult temptation to moralize seems, in most cases, to overwhelm any possibility of an engaging tale.

“Consider, for instance, the story of how a virtuous underdog rises to leadership in Rosemary Wells’s Otto Runs for President (Scholastic). Interestingly, the book is dedicated to Elizabeth Edwards, wife of a onetime Democratic underdog whose virtue now seems … somewhat dog-eared.

“The setting here is a school, all the candidates for president are canines, and the didacticism is as thick as the paint in the illustrations ….”

I admire Rosemary Wells greatly, but Gurdon defines her terms so clearly and writes so persuasively that her review left me in no rush to read about Otto. Gurdon was also underwhelmed by Kelly DiPuccio’s Grace for President and Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Max for President. (Lane Smith’s Madam President not quite as “morally earnest.” ) So which books about electoral politics might children enjoy more? Next Saturday I’ll review one of them, Kate Feiffer and Diane Goode’s President Pennybaker, also included in Gurdon’s roundup online.wsj.com/public/article/SB121944276577664749.html?mod=2_1167_1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin’s Résumé in 5 Lines

Sarah Palin makes “Obama’s resume look as thick as Winston Churchill’s,” Katha Pollitt wrote last week in her blog for the Nation. Apart from serving as mayor of Wasilla, what did Palin do before being elected governor of Alaska in 2006? This résumé or C. V. appears atop her two-page listing in the respected Almanac of American Politics 2008 (National Journal Group, 2007), by Michael Barone with Richard E. Cohen:

Elected Office: Wasilla City Cncl., 1992–1996; Wasilla Mayor, 1996-2002.

Professional Career: Television sports reporter, 1987–1989; Co-owner, commercial fishing operation, 1988–2007; Owner, snow machine, watercraft, and all-terrain vehicle business, 1994–1997; Chairwoman, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 2003–2004.”

Read Katha Pollitt’s “Sarah Palin, Wrong Woman for the Job” at www.thenation.com/blogs/anotherthing/351330 and a review of her essay collection Learning to Drive at www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/. Learn about the Almanac of American Politics 2008 at www.nationaljournal.com/almanac/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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