The Book of Presidents

Title: The Book of Presidents
Author: Orville V. Webster
Pages: 128
Reading Level: 9 – 14
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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I’ve recently begun to look upon listing all the names of the Presidents as a sort of hobby – an entertainment, a tour de force. However, I was unable to list them in chronological order – until I read The Book of Presidents and memorized their order in one sitting. #yesimproud

Anyway, that was just a side effect. The book itself follows a definite pattern – the name of the president was presented, then the years of his service as President. Next came his nickname (or motto, whichever was more popular), then the dates of his birth and death. Thence followed a two-to-five page biography of the president. His life in a nutshell, so to speak.

Of course, having been published in 1991, The Book of Presidents fell rather short of the description “up-to-date”. The book ends with President “George Bush” (no H. or W. in sight! Shocking.) However, its reports on the other Presidents were not falsified by this lack of foresight. :)

Here are a few interesting facts

  • Abigail Adams is the only woman in U.S. history to be the wife of one President and the mother of another.
  • When he died in 1836, James Madison was the last surviving signer of the Constitution.
  • Of the five Presidents who participated in the American War for Independence, three of them – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe – died on a Fourth of July.
  • Andrew Jackson participated in approximately 100 duels during his lifetime.
  • Martin Van Buren was the first President born after the United States became an independent nation.
  • William Henry Harrison is known for having given the longest inaugural address in U.S. history – it consisted of 8,578 words and lasted for one hour and forty-five minutes – and for having the shortest Presidential term!
  • John Tyler’s second wife was thirty years younger than himself.
  • One of Zachary Taylor’s daughters married Jefferson Davis!
  • Ulysses S. Grant finished his autobiography just four days before his death.
  • Garfield was able to write with both of his hands simultaneously – in different languages!
  • Teddy Roosevelt was the first President to leave U.S. soil while in office. He was also the first President to ride in an automobile, fly in an airplane, and submerge in a submarine.
  • Franklin Roosevelt was related to eleven former U.S. Presidents.
  • Gerald Ford was the first man to become President without having run for the office of either President or Vice-President.

Lincoln haters should be informed that, although practically nothing is said about the War Between the States, Lincoln is referred to as “one of the greatest men in all American history.” [pg. 51]

Conclusion. An excellent resource.

…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln

Title: If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln
Author: Ann McGovern
Illustrator: Brinton Turkle
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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…If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln, written by Ann McGovern, is unique. It reads neither like a biography nor a pure history – rather, it is a cross between both. Many of the questions dealt specifically with Lincoln while others concerned the general period of history in which he lived.

Q & A.

What kind of clothes did people wear on the frontier?

People on the frontier did not wear fancy clothes. All the clothes were made at home.

Men hunted deer and used the deerskins to make pants and jackets and shoes. They called the deerskin buckskin.

Buckskin breeches were fine – unless you got caught in the rain. Then the breeches would shrink. As they dried, the breeches would get tighter and tighter around your legs. Abe had a blue mark on each leg all his life, from wearing buckskin breeches that shrank after a rain. [pgs. 17-18]

What kind of school would you go to?

You would go to a blab school! The schools were called blab schools because everyone blabbed – that is, everyone said his lessons out loud at the same time. That is how the teacher could tell if each pupil was doing his work.

You might live miles away from a schoolhouse. When he lived in Indiana, Abe Lincoln had to walk about four miles though the woods to get to school. [pg. 33-34]

How would you send a letter?

If you wanted to send a letter, you would give it to the postmaster. Abe Lincoln was postmaster of New Salem for three years.

You would write your letter on a sheet of paper.

There were no envelopes. So you would fold the paper and seal the folds with hot sealing wax. You wrote the address on the outside. There were no stamps either. In the upper right-hand corner, the postmaster wrote down how much it would cost to send the letter. But you wouldn’t pay to send the letter. The person who got the letter paid for it. The farther away he lived, the more he had to pay.

If you wrote a letter on one sheet of paper to a friend who lived thirty miles away, your friend would have to pay six cents. But if you used two sheets of paper, your friend would have to pay twice as much. So people tried to crowd everything onto one sheet of people. [pgs. 55-56]

Cautions.

Lincoln is treated neither as a villainous ogre nor the savior of the world. He is depicted simply as a person who existed and whose life is worth recording. I found this “neutral” position acceptable, but then I am not a die-hard Lincoln hater…

One answer mentions the practice at corn husking events of exchanging a red ear for a kiss.

In the answer to one of the questions, Abe jokes about one of his father’s prayers.

One answer discusses the local beliefs and superstitious healing practices.

One answer mentions The Arabian Nights and its magical stories.

Conclusion. Helpful study of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.

The Story of Harriet Tubman

Title: The Story of Harriet Tubman
Author: Kate McMullan
Pages: 108
Recommended Ages: 8-10
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Do any of you remember The Story of Walt Disney? Well, this book is in the same biography series.

Her Life.

Having recently reviewed another more in-depth biography of Harriet Tubman, I shall not retell the story of her life. But I will say that this biography was much simpler than the other and devoted more time to Harriet’s own escape from slavery than the other did. It also focused more on her exploits than on her social legacy.

Cautions.

There are several scenes in which Harriet is whipped. She screams and is hurt, but there is no blood.

This scene occurred when Harriet came to the rescue of Charles Nalle.

As the boat carrying Harriet and Nalle landed on the opposite shore, many policeman were there to meet them. They recaptured Nalle and put him in jail.

But many angry abolitionists had crossed the river, too. They marched to the jail and threw rocks at the door. The policemen fired their guns into the crowd.

“They can only kill a dozen of us!” someone shouted. “Come on!”

More shots rang out. Many people were killed. At last a very large black man pushed open the prison door. But the sheriff was waiting inside with a hatchet. He swung the hatchet, plitting open the big man’s head. The man slumped to the ground, dead. His big body blocked the door. The sheriff couldn’t close it. A wave of people rushed in. Harriet was among them. They grabbed Nalle a second time and carried him out of the jail. [pg. 81-82]

What a price to pay in order to free one man!

The narrative said that Harriet “crossed the magical Mason-Dixie Line!” What they mean by this is that so much changed from one side to the other, but still, magical?

As I mentioned in my review of the other Harriet Tubman biography, Harriet decided to try wearing trousers designed by Mrs. Bloomer who “was a pioneer for women’s rights” while she is on the battlefield. As I said before, a much more practical outfit to wear when fighting a war, but definitely linked to ‘women’s liberation’.

When Harriet returns home to ask her husband, John to come North with her, she discovers that he is now married to another woman.

It is mentioned briefly at the end that Harriet lectured for women because, as the book says, “How many men had done the things she’d done?” [pg. 99]

This is the paragraph about Nat Turner.

The Underground Railroad was a slow way of freeing slaves. It was too slow for some people. They wanted slavery to be abolished immediately. Nat Turner, a slave in Virginia, was one of these people. He was a quiet, thoughtful man. He preached words from the Bible. One night he told six other slaves that he had had a vision from God. He believed that he was the man who would end slavery. To do this he said that God had told him to kill all of the white people he could. [pg. 19]

This is a blatant misuse of the name of God and may prompt children to wonder if God really told him these things.

Conclusion. Still, despite all of these cautions, a good introduction for children.

Sound the Jubilee

Title: Sound the Jubilee
Author: Sandra Forrester
Pages: 183
Recommended Ages: 11 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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Going into this story, I expected the typical Civil War story – a black slave runs away from her horribly oppressive masters and finds refuge with the angels of the North. However, this was not the case….

The Story.

Ever since young master Jamie died in the war, the Mistress has been different. She’s in mourning now, but it’s more than that. She’s been distracted, irritable, skittish and most of all, she’s cried in front of the slaves. She’s bothered by more than just Master Jamie’s death. The Mistress is afraid that the Yankees will descend on their North Carolinian plantation and devastate the livelihood. And their lives.

Maddie doesn’t think that the Yankees coming is such a bad idea, and neither does her father, Titus. They yearn to be free and have their own land to till. But Maddie’s mother, Ella and sister, Angeline are content to stay on with the Mistress. At least they are guaranteed bread for the next day!

But as the Yankees get closer, the Mistress decides to remove herself to Nags Head – a small island off the coast of North Carolina – where she has a cottage. She will be bringing one family of slaves to take care of her. She picks Maddie’s.

As they ride the boat across to the island, Maddie and Titus can’t help but be disappointed. Here, there one chance to escape from slavery and join the Yankees is slipping away from them. But maybe freedom isn’t so far away as they had thought…….

Fighting breaks out between the Yankees and Confederate troops on the nearby Roanoke Island. Sergeant Jakes, a Confederate officer, demands that the Mistress evacuate her cottage and move to safer quarters. In the ensuing confusion, Maddie’s family slips away into the underbrush…..

Titus has heard that the Yankee soldiers are actually welcoming runaway slaves into their barracks. It’s at least worth a stab at freedom, isn’t it?

Will Maddie and her family escape to freedom, or will the Mistress discover their plot? And if they do escape, will the Yankees welcome them, or treat them harshly?

Praises.

When Maddie’s sister, Angeline meets Royal, they instantly like each other. Royall expresses interest in Angeline, but instead of the two of them spending lots of time alone together, the family welcomes him into their home. He share meals with them and becomes a part of the family even before he and Angeline are married. I thought that this section of the story was actually handled well.

Later, Angeline flippantly suggests that Zebedee is Maddie’s beau. She repudiates the idea and continues to treat Zebedee as a brother.

While staying at Roanoke Island, Maddie starts a makeshift school where she teaches the children how to read. I didn’t mind this because none of their parents could accomplish that task and it is one of the best ways that Maddie could invest her time.

Maddie demonstrates great humility when a real teacher is sent to Roanoke Island. Instead of resenting her, she rejoices in the chance to further her own education and lends much needed help to the teacher.

Another point that I appreciated was Ms. Forrester’s honest account of the Union’s views. Although the Union position was portrayed as correct (a book about a slave could do no less), it was not glamorized. Union soldiers are not sketched as loving or perfect; many times they treat the freed slaves with meanness, and after fighting in the war Royall declares,

“The white soldiers hate us – North or South, don’t matter which side they’s fightin’ on, they’d just as soon see us die as not. Thinks we’s uppity, tryin’ to be as good as they is. The blueoats don’t want us in their army.” [pg. 156]

Sergeant Taylor correctly declares that The Emancipation Proclamation only frees slaves in the Confederate states.

Cautions.

Relationships

Maddie’s parents have several disagreements early on in the story. While Titus is a passionate, freedom-loving man, Ella is peaceful and content with their situation. It worries Ella to see Titus taking so many risks just to achieve freedom, and they have several disagreements throughout the beginning part of the story.

Also, earlier on, Maddie chooses to do several things which she knows her mother would not like, but which her father approves of her doing. They are not evil things, (visiting young friends and the like) but it strains their relationship. As Maddie grows and matures, their relationship becomes much closer.

Violence.

Maddie remembers a time when a runaway slave was whipped and branded.

“There was no way Bertie could escape those men and their tracking dogs. Next day they dragged her back. She was stripped and tied to a post so Master could give her fifty lashes with his bullwhip. Aunt Lucy said that girl screamed louder than any slave she’d ever heard, till the pain got too much and she passed out.

Maddie was five or six the next time Bertie tried to run. She was in the kitchen with Mama when the men brought Bertie back. Maddie remembered the sounds of the men shouting and the hounds yelping, all excited because they’d tracked down the runaway’s scent. But Mama wouldn’t let Maddie go outside to see. All the while Master was flogging Bertie, Mama just kept singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” r-eal loud to cover the shrieks and wails. But it didn’t help. Bertie’s screams carried to every corner of the plantation.

It wasn’t until days later, when Bertie was on her feet again but still a pitiful sight, that Maddie saw the Master had done more than just flog her. Bertie was passing the kitchen quarter on her way to the fields. Maddie would see the woman’s face was swollen and red as blood. But the worse sight was the horrible oozing sore on her cheek. Maddie thought she was going to be sick when she saw it. The Master had branded Bertie with a hot iron! For the rest of her life poor Bertie would carry the shameful mark on her once-pretty face. The R for runaway. Bertie never did try to leave the plantation after that.” [pgs. 19-20]

This is the only violent scene in the story.

Superstitions.

One of the nurses on Roanoke Island, Sister Melba, is very superstitious.

“Sister Melba conversed with the spirits of the dead as easily as she spoke to the living. She believed in talismans and omens, premonitions and dreams. She never smiled. She never stopped by a neighbour’s tent to visit. She just worked at the hospital – twelve, fourteen, sometimes sixteen hours a day. People in the camp thought she was peculiar. Some were a little afraid of her. But still they found her strangely compelling. When she looked you straight in the face with her hypnotic black eyes, and said you would be all right, you believed her.” [pg. 93]

Sister Melba helps Angeline to give birth. She “stuffed rags into cracks under the doors to keep out evil spirits, and had placed an ax under Angeline’s bed to cut the pain, but a dull one so that the mother wouldn’t bleed too much.” [pg. 175]

Sister Melba says that it will give the baby bad luck if they speak her name before the ninth day.

Random.

Maddie receives a book of Walt Whitman’s poems for Christmas. She and her father both love the poetry and admire Mr. Whitman. This may give your children the impression that Whitman was a ‘good guy’.

Ella excuses thievery because it was done to save a life.

Maddie says when thinking of marriage that

“She didn’t long for the day when they could share a house together. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to share a home with any man. Because Maddie had other dreams.

She wanted to go to the North. She wanted to see the cities and the people that Miss James talked about. She wanted to learn everything about everything. And after the war was over – if it ever was over – she wanted to come back to North Carolina and teach, as Miss James was teaching her. What man – even a special man like Zebedee – would want his wife to do that? Now that she had tasted freedom, Maddie wasn’t sure she could accept another kind of bondage – even from somebody who loved her.” [pg. 153]

Maddie keeps a secret from her mother. Admittedly the secret is one which will hurt Ella immensely and is not something she ought to know. But Maddie says that keeping the secret makes her feel older.

‘Sweet Jesus’ and ‘Lord have mercy’ are used as exclamations, but only in intense and very serious situations.

Conclusion. Looking over my review it seems as though the book is a thorough mess of problems. However, this is not the case – any problematic events were incidents, not the main theme of the story. Sound the Jubilee was an interesting and honest look at slavery in the south. Slave owners are not portrayed as ogres, but the abuses of slavery are mildly shown. Purchase a copy here.