Book Review: Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 30-12-2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 4.28.51 PMKid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents
David Stabler, Illustrations by Doogie Horner
Quirk Books
October 2014

ARC provided by LibraryThing

We should all go ahead and get one thing out of the way, history can be boring as sin for young kids to study.  Oh I know, its exciting and there is some great stuff in it that kids would enjoy.  But the people that write the history books? And the *cough* politicians and people *cough* that try to rewrite history?  Yeah…they forget how much fun history really is and get stuck on trying to make people memorize facts and figures, instead of remembering that the past can be not only a great teacher, but fun as well.  And that’s where books like “Kid Presidents” come in.

In this book David Stabler brings to life stories from sixteen different presidents, including our current one Barack Obama, from when they were kids.  And while others have done this type of thing before, they all tend to focus on the same boring story, like George Washington and the cherry tree or Abraham Lincoln and his quest to end vampires…wait neither of those is real? Well dang.  Oh well, Stabler has done his research and brings to life stories that ARE real, strange, and just…normal that readers of all ages will enjoy.  I mean I learned a lot about the presidents that I hadn’t known before.  For example, did you know that George Washington was almost apprenticed to the British Navy before his mom stepped in and put a stop to it?  Or that he helped create some of the early maps of Virginia instead?  Its true! Even more importantly though, Stabler makes it a point to show how the presidents were just like everyone else growing up.  They struggled with homework, got into fights with their siblings, drove their teachers and parents nuts, and had to do stuff they hated, but they still managed to grow up and hold the most important office in the US.  Imagine the joy and aspirations so many young children will get reading about past presidents.  And wonder if one day they will join their ranks.  The only complaint that I have is that Stabler only writes about sixteen of the presidents.  While he presents interesting tidbits and facts about all of them throughout the book, I would have loved to see more stories of our past leaders.

One of the things that helps bring this book to life, are the great illustrations that Doogie Horner provides throughout. With a style and movement that reminds me of Charles Schulz, Horner captures the essence of the people that we meet making them feel like the kids next door.  For example, within the story Ulysses Grant, one of the illustrations captures Grant at the age of eight buying a horse from a  wily farmer.  The illustration captures the precocious, but studious nature of the young grant and portrays the farmer as a somewhat rascally, but one that is basically good at heart.  Trust me, that’s a lot to try to convey in one image but Horner does a good job of it.  The one complaint that I have is about the book cover itself.  The only illustration that looks like it was done by Horner is the one of Teddy Roosevelt.  The other ones present a caricature of the adult president face, situated on a child’s body.  Which is just really, really creep.  I’m not sure what led to this style change, but I would have far preferred to see the illustrations as they were in the book.

Although the book has some minor flaws, by and large I recommend it without hesitation.  Not just to young readers, but all ages as even adults will learn something new about our past presidents.  I hope that Stable and Horner are able to do another book featuring new stories about other presidents and that this is the first in a series.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Tomboy

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 28-12-2014

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Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 2.01.10 PMTomboy
Liz Prince
Zest Books
September 2014

Growing up Liz Prince wasn’t what you call a girly girl. She didn’t like dressing in pink, or playing princess, or heaven help you if you tried to put her in a dress. She didn’t want any of that. Instead, she liked playing baseball, looking at worms and dead things on the ground, and running around in jeans just having fun. Liz knew where she belonged…but did anyone else? Girls didn’t want to play with her (and to be honest she didn’t want to play with them), but the boys didn’t want her around either because she was a girl! What was she supposed to do? As time passes and as new people come into her life, maybe, just maybe, Liz might find where she belongs. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find where you belong too.

One of the hardest, and worst, things about growing up is being told that we have to fit in. That we must conform to this box that society shoves us into based upon gender, or our race, or our religion…or anything. It insists that pink and dresses and playing house are for girls and blue and overalls and playing rough are for boys. And the lines are to never be crossed. It is the worst and most damaging lie that we tell children. In this memoir Liz prince takes that box, tells it to get lost, and shows us how she find her path and place in this world. “Tomboy” a phrase once used as an insult, becomes a rallying cry of marching to the beat of your own drummer. Of being true to yourself.

Even though Liz is writing this book from the perspective of a young woman, the message, and the story within it, are ones that we can all relate too. I found myself reading and nodding along (and in some places shouting out “Yes, yes! Someone else knows what I was feeling) as Liz tries so hard to be herself, but still fit into the world around her. I was the opposite of Liz, I got along better with girls, enjoyed more quiet things, although I never did like pink. Like Liz, I had trouble finding where I fit in, still do sometimes too be honest. But like Liz, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found the groups and people that accept me as I am. And this book gives me a little bit more hope that I had before.

Liz tells her story in short anecdotes of her life, of growing up with parents that were accepting (which seems to be a rarity these days), of trying to find where she fits into the school world, and of finally finding comfort in just being herself and finding a group that accepts her as she is. Throughout these stories Liz touches on some heavy topics including dealing with bullying, of feeling like you’re alone and that no one understands you, and finally…of accepting who you are and knowing that there are others that will accept you as you are as well. She tells her story with a bit of humor, a lot of emotion, and all heart, to keep the reader engaged.

Liz’s art style could be described as deceptively simple. Much like one of her contemporaries, Raina Telgemeier, Liz uses a simple unbroken line to capture the characters and their surrounding, with a little bit of shading when necessary, but seemingly not a lot else. But while the drawings may seem simple, they capture the fluidity and the life of the character, allowing the reader to see them move and grow upon the page. In addition, each panel is laid out with care to ensure that what we see is necessary and relative to the story at hand. No panel is wasted and the images allow us to see with clarity what Liz was experiencing at the time or how she imagines others view her, such as her baseball teammates seeing her as a girly princess wanting to play catch. The movement within the illustrations will capture young readers attention and help them see that the author experiences the world as they do.

As mentioned earlier, although Liz is writing from the perspective of a young woman, this a story that all genders and ages can relate to. In fact, I would strongly encourage anyone involved in education at any level and any parent to read this book so that they understand that it is ok to be who you are and maybe get some ideas and advice on how to encourage young people struggling with these identity issues. I highly recommend the book and give it five out of five stars.

Additional note:
This is where I deviate a bit from the review to offer an additional note about books like Tomboy.

In the last several years there have been more books published about following your own path. To take the box that society tries to shove us into and shove it back. And there are some that decry that these types of books are promoting harm, encouraging kids to be different, or promoting sin, or whatever other words they can think of to say that books like Tomboy, Drama, and countless others are bad for people, especially young children and teens to read. I’m going to be nice in how I phrase this, so here’s the reality: books like this one and others help people know that they don’t have to fit into a nice little packaged box. That they are not alone in this world and that there are others like them. That they can be themselves and do well at it. Maybe some people in their life won’t like it, but that’s ok. Because they are not alone. They aren’t evil, they aren’t bad, they aren’t whatever words some adults want to use say they are. They can be proud of who they are. And maybe, just maybe, books like Tomboy and Drama can help some people get a perspective that is different than their own and understand some of the people in their world a bit better.