The Book of Presidents

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

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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.

Who Was Ronald Reagan?

Title: Who Was Ronald Reagan?
Author: Joyce Milton
Illustrator: Elizabeth Wolf
Pages: 106
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Who was Ronald Reagan? What did he believe? What did he stand for? What did he do with his life? All of these questions and more are answered in Who Was Ronald Reagan?

Praises.

Many fun facts are given from Reagan’s life. For example, did you know …

…that during the six years that he served as a bodyguard at Rock River, Ronald Reagan rescued seventy seven people?

… that although Reagan’s first name was always Ronald, he was called ‘Dutch’ Reagan until he became an actor at the age of twenty-six?

… that Reagan acted in over sixty movies and thirteen TV shows?

… that Reagan turned seventy less than a month after he was elected, making him the oldest person to become President?

One thing that I really liked in Who Was Ronald Reagan? were the little boxed notes that it featured on different historical events – Prohibition, the Great Depression, The Cold War, the Berlin Wall, etc. These helped give context to the events in Reagan’s life.

Reagan was initially a big fan of FDR and his plans to help America, he later decided, “that the government had gotten too big. The government in Washington, D.C., kept starting new programs. But, Reagan complained, few of the were ended even after they had served their purpose. Reagan came to believe that, in the long run, government created as many problems as it solved.” [pg. 56-57] Woohoo!

Cautions.

Reagan’s Grenada invasion is discussed briefly and his opinion (that “what happened in the Middle East was ‘everybody’s business’“) is given.

Reagan’s first marriage and subsequent divorce are mentioned.

It is reported that on their first date Nancy and Reagan stayed out until three in the morning.

On illustration shows a woman in a bathing suit.

Conclusion. An excellent introduction for young students.

Operation Rawhide

Title: Operation Rawhide
Author: Paul Thomsen
Pages: 70
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Few Presidents were as well loved as Ronald Reagan, but there were some who hated him….. and were willing to express that hatred in steel.

The Story.

President Ronald Reagan – nicknamed Rawhide – is only sixty-nine days into his presidency, but already he’s become accustomed to the routine of meetings and press conferences. March 30, 1981 is just such another day; President Reagan has completed a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel and he is preparing to return to the White House when a man steps forward. This man fires six bullets at the President, missing him with each shot. But the sixth, ricocheting off of the limousine door, pierces his chest, grazes a rib and pauses an inch from his heart. With the President coughing up blood, Secret Service Agents direct his course to the George Washington University Hospital. If medical help is not found soon, the President will die.

Dr. Aaron has just come off of a grueling heart surgery. He needs a rest. But there is no time to rest with the President’s life at stake. With a prayer to God for help, Dr. Aaron makes ready for surgery. If Reagan lives he will be the first President to ever survive an assassination attempt. But will he live?

Praises.

As part of the Creation Adventure Series, Operation Rawhide incorporates short pieces describing God’s creation and explaining why it could not have come about by evolutionary processes. For example,

The heart is a perfectly organized mechanism that begins its work shortly after conception in the mother’s womb. Beating, beating, three thousand times an hour, eighty thousand times a day whether at work or asleep – never resting, never stopping, millions and billions of times over a lifetime. That masterful combination of muscles and electrical impulses draws in oxygenated blood from the lungs and superboosts it to the other body organs – to the millions of receptacles on the back of the eyes that help give us sight, to the millions of nerve endings on our fingers giving us touch, to the millions of electrical connectors in the brain giving us the ability for thought, wisdom, and feelings. Feelings that are inherent to all mankind – the sensation of beauty that one feels while viewing a golden sunset across a fall-colored, hushed lake; feelings of power watching a surging, crashing ocean; feelings of love when a mother holds her newborn baby. None of these sensations – beauty, power, or love – could have just happened by time and chance. This incredibly complicated, perfectly organized, functioning, living heart could not have come about or developed by mutation over billions of years of mistakes through evolution. The most evident, perfect example of a Sovereign Creator God is life itself, for only a Supreme Being has the capability of producing it – only God could have put the breath of life into this President’s heart.” [pgs. 51-52] 

On this account, Operation Rawhide was interesting as well as apologetically informing.

Mr. Thomsen correctly identifies America as a Republic several times. He says that

“The very foundation that glued the republic together was cracking and beginning to crumble  from within. Massive racial violence was erupting. Violent crime was on the rise, and running amuck was an exploding drug addiction that was eating at the very core of the nation – its youth. Torn and twisted, the backbone of the nation – its moral fiber – stood on the brink of catastrophic collapse.

This was a battle of foundational values – the collective conscience of the people. It was spiritual warfare.” [pgs. 4-5]

Cautions.

Mr. Thomsen states in one place that he and his family had accepted Christ as their personal Saviour and made him Lord over their lives. In another place Mr. Thomsen refers to a man as ‘demon-controlled’.

Mr. Thomsen describes the events that led to John Hinckley’s Jr.’s assassination attempt on Reagan. He says that

“Hinckley also had a mad fascination for a young movie star he had never met. She had played the part of a teenage prostitute in a film about a demented young man who planned to kill a high political figure and then stalked his victim relentlessly. Time after time he sat through the film, burying into his drug-filled, mesmerized mind the satanic plot – stalk and kill, stalk and kill. As his plan to get the President took form in his mind, he wrote the starlet a letter. In it he said, “I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you. . . . I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you.”

This demon-controlled, sick man went on to close the letter, “I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love.” [pgs. 8-9]

Mr. Thomsen says that Hinckley spent the night before his attempt at

“the pornographic stores, filling his mind with corrupting, lewd pictures. His senses were dulled by drugs, pornography, hard rock music, and Nazi doctrine—everything God opposed.” [pgs. 10-11]

These passages aren’t immdediately defiling, but they are sure to raise a lot of questions in the minds of children regarding words and ideas.

There is a reference to crematoriums.

This story includes several accounts of heart surgeries. Because their goal is to heal, these do not have the nasty feeling that brutality induces, but they are enough to make a person squeamish. The following passage describes the beginning of a heart surgery.

“Taking a scalpel, he made the incision from the top of the breastbone to the bottom, working the bottom area a bit more open. Having done that, he slipped the foot of his saber saw under the sternum and squeezed the activator button, sending the blade into an up-and-down blur. Pushing the instrument forward, he proceeded to saw the sternum in two, a slight whiff of smoke rising as the blade easily buzzed through the bone structure. Removing the saw, he inserted the chest spreader, screwing it open. With each twist, the chest cavity yawned wider, exposing the diseased heart in its protective sac, the pericardium. Carefully he cut the sac open – the heart with its four plugged arteries now in full view….

Before the heart could be operated on, it had to be shut down; the heart-lung machine would take over the function of the heart and the lungs by both pumping the blood and recharging the oxygen. To connect the tubes leading to the heart-lung machine, Dr. Aaron first made an incision in the aorta, the big main artery at the top of the heart where blood comes out and flows to the whole body. Into the small incision, he sutured the small tube leading back to the heart-lung machine. Once completed, he made a second incision in the right atrium, the chamber of the heart that pumps the blood to the big aorta. Into the second incision he sutured the other tube, about the size of a thumb. As the tubes cut off the blood supply to the heart and bypassed it to the heart-lung machine, the patient’s heart, having no blood to pump, naturally stopped pumping; however, it continued to beat.

“Sorta looks like a flopping, deflated volleyball,” said the anesthesiologist as he adjusted the anesthetic gas that kept the patient unconscious. [pgs. 28-30]

Something that aspiring doctors and scientists may enjoy, but as for the rest of us….

Conclusion. I knew next to nothing about Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt prior to reading this story, but now I feel as though I understand the events that occurred and why they occurred. If you believe that your child can handle the above cautions, I recommend that you purchase your copy here.

…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: ★★★★

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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.

Stories In His Own Hand

Title: Stories In His Own Hand
Author: Ronald Reagan
Pages: 123
Reading Level: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I had seen this book at the North Channel library sale before, but had passed it up thinking that it didn’t look terribly interesting. But at my last trip to the North Channel sale, when I came across it, I realized just what it was. It was a set of stories and sketches written by a past President of my country. That was worth the purchase right there (not taking into account that Reagan was an actor from the thirties and forties…..)

The Story.

Stories In His Own Hand consisted of different stories and sketches which were written by Reagan, mostly to be read over the radio. They are so short and of such a varied nature that it would be impossible to offer you a summary of each or even to provide you with a general idea of their style.

That said, there were a few entries that stood out to me. One was the story of ten Vietnam veterans who returned to Vietnam to help villagers recover from the devastation done there by living in community with them and offering friendship. Another sketch outlined the history of a nation (the name was not initially given). The description was almost identical to America, but the nation being described (we learned at the end) was Rome. Another story was of a young girl dying from leukemia and how a community voluntarily raised the funds for her surgery.

In one short sketch, Reagan defends Calvin Coolidge, the ‘do-nothing’ President. Here is what Reagan says in Coolidge’s defense.

“So what if he was a ‘do nothing’ president. Do you suppose doing nothing had something to do with reducing the budget, reducing the debt and cutting taxes four times?” [pg. 68]

I think my favorite pieces, though, were the ones Reagan wrote of his own life. Having seen a few of his movies, I enjoyed hearing about his times as a nervous young actor and the occasion when he was tricked into attending the premier of his first real movie.

Cautions.

My first thought is more a note than a caution; Ronald Reagan’s writings breathe of what I would call a ‘good-old-boy’ view of the American people. He refers to them as a whole as upright, honest, intelligent, and highly moral. Now, I recognize that America has been tremendously blessed of God, that her citizens have in the past operated on a Christian foundation, and that in many senses we are the freest country in the world. But I’m not a triumphalist and I do not consider America to be a godly or righteous nation at this time. The reality is that a great number of our people are morally rotting from the inside out. Like I said, not really a caution so much as a note.

There is one mild evolutionary reference.

‘Hell’, is used once and ‘h—l’ four times.

Conclusion. Stories In His Own Hand will be an engaging read for those interested in politics or American history in the last century. I found that it gave me a fuller understanding of the man that Ronald Reagan was and what his hopes were for our country. Purchase a copy here.

Facts and Fun About the Presidents

Title: Facts and Fun About the Presidents
Author: George Sullivan
Pages: 96
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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There are various ways to learn about our Presidents; you can find biographies which describe them exhaustively, you might find a textbook that briefly introduces all of them, or you can do it the fun way. You can buy books like Facts and Fun About the Presidents.

Facts and Fun doesn’t tell you all that much about the Presidents’ political stances or religious beliefs, but it does tell you about the Roosevelt’s pet pony who rode in the White House elevator, and the nickname Grover Cleveland gave his favorite hunting rifle.

Tidbits.

Abraham Lincoln sometimes made jokes about his homely looks. When Senator Stephen A. Douglas called him a ‘two-faced man,’ Lincoln replied, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?” [pg. 65]

Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth President, never wasted words. His nick-name was ‘Silent Cal’.

A reporter once said to him: “I bet someone that I could get more than two words out of you.”

Replied Cal: “You lose.” [pg. 65]

Abigail Adams, First Lady from 1797-1801, brought the first piano to the White House. [pg. 43]

Five of the forty-one Presisents had no children. The thirty-six Presidents who did have children had a total of 151 – 90 were boys and 61 were girls. [pg. 31]

“Herbert Hoover’s son, Allan, had two pet alligators that sometimes were permitted to wander loose around the White House.” [pg. 42]

Ulysses S. Grant smoked twenty cigars a day. [pg. 82]

Conclusion. Each of the Presidents are treated with the same degree of approbation. Because no serious issues were addressed, this worked fine. Facts and Fun About the Presidents is filled with those kinds of facts that children love to remember – the funny ones. Purchase a copy here.

Kennedy Assassinated!

Title: KENNEDY ASSASSINATED!
Author: Wilborn Hampton
Pages: 96
Recommended Ages: 10 & 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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So, my mom practically loathes JFK, but we both thought that this looked like an interesting account of his assassination. So we bought it.

The Story.

Bill Hampton is still a newbie at the prestigious United Press International agency, and although one of U. P. I.’s reporters often trails the President, Bill himself has never had such an important assignment. And then? November 22, 1963.

It was on that day, while he was driving through Dallas in a open-top motorcade, that JFK was shot at by an assassin. The initial report to Bill’s phone was vague; shots had been fired, but it was thought that the President was uninjured. Not content to rest in the unknown, and eager to be at the forefront of news, Bill contacts the Dallas Police Headquaters. He finds that JFK was indeed shot and was injured – badly. Bill’s manager details him to Parkland Hospital to begin investigating the biggest news story of his life.

Discussion.

Not being a huge fan of JFK, I was curious to see how Mr. Hampton would handle the portrayal of him. I was pleased with it; the event was treated as a tragedy and outrage not because JFK was an amazing man or because he had done so much to help the country, but simply because he was our President.

Kennedy Assassinated! does not offer any alternative theory to the death of President Kennedy other than that Lee Harvey Oswald was the murderer. Mr. Hampton does admit that because Oswald was shot before extensive questioning could reveal the whole story, a lot of questions remain unanswered, but he maintains that the lack of any other suspects and the enormous circumstantial evidence points clearly to his guilt. I was fine with this – I have no strong opinions in regard to Oswald’s guilt or innocence – but I know that some people disagree over this interpretation of events.

Conclusion. Through its many original photographs and newspaper clippings, Kennedy Assassinated! made me feel as though I was actually present at the events that it documented. Purchase a copy here.