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WILL ROGERS by Frank Keating


An American Legend

by Frank Keating & illustrated by Mike Wimmer

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-15-202405-0
Publisher: Silver Whistle/Harcourt

An attractive, heartfelt, but ultimately obscure picture-book tribute to the great American humorist and commentator. Will Rogers is presented as the quintessential Oklahoma boy: “There, on the broad back of his father’s horse, Lummox, and at his mother’s knee, he saw oceans of wheat and dreamed of touching distant skies.” It’s arranged quasi-chronologically, but rather than offering traditional biographical material, Oklahoma Governor Keating chooses instead to home in on Rogers’s character traits, from his love of flying to his ability to make people laugh. Each trait is illustrated by one of Rogers’s aphorisms: Will’s humble beginnings, for instance, lead to the saying, “No man is great if he thinks he is.” Wimmer’s (Summertime, 1999, etc.) luminous paintings also focus on Rogers’s earthy nature; in one, Will appears in a rumpled suit and with five-o’clock shadow on a campaign platform next to Franklin Roosevelt. The design is heavy on nostalgia—the text is printed in a faux-typewriter font over a background of yellowed paper tacked onto a wall. However visually appealing, though, this offering suffers from one fatal flaw: it doesn’t ever tell the reader what Will Rogers actually did in his life. There is no explicit mention of his careers in vaudeville and later in film, no substantive discussion of his writing or radio work, no explanation of his political relationships. Save for one line, “families laughed with him on radio broadcasts, in newspaper columns, and in movies,” this leaves the reader with the vague impression that Will Rogers spent his life being virtuous and dispensing homespun wisdoms—and nothing else. As it stands, without the necessary contextualizing detail to flesh out this most human man, most readers previously unfamiliar with the subject will find themselves no more familiar with him at closing. (Picture book/biography. 6-9)