In this attractive, mostly balanaced picture book, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns turns his narrative skills to introducing kids to our 44 (so far) presidents.
Grover Cleveland, Again! a Treasury of American Presidents By Ken Burns, illustrated by Gerald Kelley. Knopf, 2016, 96 pp.
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 8-14
The explanation of the book’s odd title is given three times (back flap, forward, and Cleveland page), so I refuse to repeat it here. The youthful Burns, who doesn’t look old enough to have kids at all, let alone grown ones, has adapted the bedtime reading he used to do for his daughters into this friendly take on all 44 presidents. Each one—regardless of achievement—is given a full-color two-page spread with a generous helping of sidebar facts: relevant dates, parents, siblings, children, nickname (if any), other occupations, and pets. The administrations of each prez are covered with appropriate thoroughness, and a remarkable degree of balance. Burns tries to say something nice about everybody, though his liberal bias seeps through sometimes. On Cleveland—again:
What did Grover Cleveland do about [starving farmers and closing factories during the Panic of 1893]? Unfortunately, not enough. He still believed that he and Congress could only do what the Constitution said they could. However, America was changing and it was time for the government to start changing too.
Drop that dry old Constitution and get with the program, POTUSes! I do appreciate that Burns, a passionate history buff, takes his subjects seriously and doesn’t mention Taft getting stuck in the bathtub. The writeup of Obama is a bit syrupy but you can skip right to the list of presidential historic sites and glossary of terms. To Burns’ credit, this is a decent overview of American history, charting broad themes and recurring issues with the disclaimer that none of them are simple. He also uses lots of italics.
Cautions: None (or Worldview, depending on how you feel about liberal bias)
Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)