Stories from their child and teen years reveal that U.S. presidents were kids like any others—with hobbies and families and escapades both amusing and alarming.
Robert Schnakenberg, author of Secret Lives of Great Authors (illustrated by Mario Zucca, 2008) and similar titles for adults, uses a pseudonym for this entertaining collection of presidential trivia. Embellishing the story of Washington and the cherry tree with a fire-breathing dinosaur, he points out that that oft-told anecdote is fantasy. Instead, he offers 16 “true tales” organized into three sections, along with additional factoids about games and pranks, early jobs and mishaps, as well as teachers’ comments about our nation’s leaders. He rounds out his collection with a final surprising fact about each of the 44 presidents (Cleveland gets two for his two nonconsecutive terms). With examples that include Grant’s early horsemanship, Obama’s travails as a new boy in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the nearsighted Reagan’s butterfly collection, the author presents engaging vignettes of these men as boys. Horner’s full-color cartoons add to the humor. For young readers wanting to know more about individual presidents, the author provides suggested titles. Troublingly, though, there is no indication of the author’s sources, either in the book or on the publisher’s website. These tales are pleasingly told, but readers cannot know where the facts end and embellishment begins. Young readers deserve to know that, too.
Lively but not reliable. (index) (Collective biography. 9-13)