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.

Cross-Country with Lewis and Clark

Title: Cross-Country with Lewis and Clark
Author: Dona Smith
Pages: 137
Recommended Ages: 9-12
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 love stories about animals, especially when the animal doesn’t die in the end… (Unfortunately, they usually do.)

The Story.

Seaman never has been a very brave pup, despite his Newfoundland heritage. And now, Meriwether Lewis has purchased him to provide protection on a mission that requires only the most courageous and the best.

Seaman is pretty sure that he’ll be a failure from the beginning. In fact, he’s not even sure he should stick around long enough to prove a failure. But as time goes on, he becomes fond of Captain Lewis. He even manages to save his life! Also, he helps the Captain track down many unknown species for record. The more time he spends with the team, the more invested he feels until he thinks of it as his own personal venture. It is his duty to protect the team!

Will Seaman, Lewis, and Clark survive their cross-country trek? And will they ever see the Pacific ocean?

Praises.

Cross-Country with Lewis and Clark, although told in a fictionalized format, provides much historical information for the young reader. It briefly acquaints us with Captain Lewis, Clark, and even the much-famed Sacagawea.

Apart from Cross-Country with Lewis and Clark’s historical value, there was a huge theme of courage running through this story. In the beginning, Seaman is such a coward that he declares,

“The first time I come face-to-face with danger, I am going to turn my tail on it. As I said, I never wanted to go on a real adventure.” [pg. 9]

But as the trip progresses, Seaman’s courage grows. On one occasion he is tempted to desert the expedition, but he realizes that to do so would be low. Throughout the course of the expedition he saves the lives of half a dozen people. This scene takes place immediately following his second rescue.

Captain Lewis threw his arms around my shoulders. “Thank you, brave dog!” he said. “I saw you rush to save me!”

He was right. That was exactly what I had done. My head was reeling with disbelief.

I guess I can be brave after all. Maybe I’m starting to learn new things about myself, just as Captain Lewis is learning new things about the country. [pg. 22]

Seaman is sweet and tries to be helpful whenever he can. This is his entry from August 16, 1804.

One of the men is very, very sick. His name is Private Charles Floyd.

I go to see him many times every day. All I can do is lick his face. York sits by his side.

Captain Lewis tries to tend to him. Nothing helps.

Every night Captain Clark stares up at the sky. I know he is very worried. So am I. [pg. 39]

Isn’t that sweet? (:

In this account, Seaman and his friend Dorion are out exploring when they come across a rattlesnake.

“Dorion took a step backward. The snake’s hissing got louder. I saw his whole body stiffen, and I knew he was ready to strike.

I heard my own roar before I knew I was barking. Now the snake was looking at me. I kept barking at the snake, to hold its attention on me. When I heard Dorion pick up his rifle, I turned and ran.

Boom! I heard the shotgun blast, then Dorion’s voice calling my name.

I kept on running, but not for long. I realized that Dorion had shot the snake. It just took a moment to sink in.

Whew! The meeting with the snake taught me a lesson. Out here you have to be alert all the time. If you’re not paying attention, even for a second, that second might be your last. [pgs. 45-46]

I just found the vision of a great black Newfoundland bounding away in utter terror a cute picture. So darling!

Cautions.

The entire story is narrated by Seaman in the form of journal entries. I did not mind this – it was an impossible plot device, but oh, well. My concern comes only from the fact that on several occasions, Seaman claims that dogs CAN read and write; always have, always will. He even speaks of stealing paper to add to his diary. I don’t think that all of this ruined the book, but it did make a few entries somewhat silly.

On only one incident did Native American spiritualism creep into the story. Here is the entire section.

“I have been sick for days. All I could do was lie in the canoe. Most of the time I was dreaming. Sometimes I heard the captains talking, but they sounded far away. But I heard them say they were afraid I would die.

One day, I dreamed that I was walking into a fog. It got darker and darker all around me. I began to think I would never find my way out.

Just as I was about to give up, I saw a silver dog. She told me to follow her and that I would be all right. Then she led me out of the fog into a forest. Finally, we came to a beautiful meadow.

We lay down on the grass to rest. The dog began to disappear before my eyes. I fell asleep. When I woke up today, I was better. I stood up, and my leg hardly hurt at all.

When Captain Lewis saw me walking, his mouth dropped open. “I don’t believe it,” he gasped. “Whatever pulled you through, it was a miracle.” I guess it was.

Sacagawea thought it was a special kind of miracle. She thought I was visited by a wayakin – a spirit guide. I listened while she told Captain Lewis about them.

In many tribes, when a boy or girl is about 13, they go off by themselves to fast and pray. They have a vision of a bird or animal. It is the spirit that will always watch over them – their wayakin.

I think Sacagawea is right. My wayakin came to visit me and saved my life. [pg. 85-86]

Seaman’s original owner lies to Lewis in order to make him seem more valuable.

Conclusion. A super fun story and a great way for children to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Purchase a copy here.

Thomas Jefferson

Title: Thomas Jefferson
Author: Helen Albee Monsell
Pages: 192
Recommended Ages: 8-12
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 already read and reviewed several books in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series, but I believe that this one is my favorite thus far.

His Life.

Although born at his family’s home, Shadwell, Thomas Jefferson spent some of his earliest years living at Tuckahoe, the home of his father’s friend, Tom Randolph. He enjoyed his time there, but Tom wanted to return to his family’s real home– he had heard that there were mountains there!

At the age of nine, Tom did return to his home. He had been so young when he left it that he didn’t remember anything about it – the rooms, the servants, the furniture, nothing. But he wasn’t disappointed by it – and he loved the mountains.

Although he had learned to read and write while living at Tuckahoe, Tom’s father decided that Tom needed to go to school. So he began studying with Mr. Douglass in Goocheland County, where he learned Latin, Greek, and French.

Tom’s father died when Tom was fourteen, but Tom continued his education, knowing that was his father’s wish. He began attending the College of William and Mary when he was sixteen. It was while he studied there that he met Patrick Henry and began to form a friendship with him. It was also during this time that Shadwell burnt down along with all of Tom’s notes from the books that he had read. Tom began to make plans for the new house that he would build in Shadwell’s place. He started the house’s construction when he was twenty-five and continued to make changes and improvements to it for the rest of his life. He named the house Monticello.

As a man, Thomas Jefferson contributed greatly to the founding of our nation. Although not present at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Jefferson was the primary author of that other great document of our nation’s founding, the Declaration of Independence. He also served as the third President of the United States, and helped to found a college for less privileged young men in his state. He himself listed the following three items as his most important life’s work.

1)      The Declaration of Independence.

2)      The law which gave each person the right to worship God in his own way.

3)      The University of Virginia.

Praises.

Early on in the biography, Tom learns that however hard or unpleasant it was, leaders must do what is best for their people.

When an older man is telling Tom a story, his excitement causes him to interrupt the story. However, he catches himself and apologizes for his disrespect.

As a young man, Tom describes the method I most like to use when discussing serious issues with people.

“Look here, Tom. If you don’t ever argue with folks, how do you always manage to make them think as you do?”

“I don’t.”

“Most of the time you do. How?”

Tom thought for a minute. Then he grinned. “I always try to be polite, for one thing. Sometimes, maybe, I ask a question or two to set the other fellow thinking. ‘Don’t you think?’ ‘I wonder if—-‘ You know—things like that. Pretty soon he is figuring things out for himself. That is what I am after. Now he doesn’t think of it any longer as being my idea. It is his idea.

“Folks always like their own ideas. He begins to feel that I am agreeing with him, not he with me. That’s all right. I don’t mind. We are agreeing. That’s the important thing.” [pgs. 171-172]

I can’t begin to express how much I agree with Tom’s analysis of people and ideas – or how many times I have personally witnessed and used its effectiveness.

Cautions.

In the first chapter, it is noted that Tom was taught to memorize things without understanding them. Thus he learned his ABCs without understanding that they would someday make words. He also memorized the Lord’s Prayer without understanding that prayer was the act of talking with God. Because of this, the story tells us that

“Somehow, though, he thought that, if you could say your prayers, you could make anything happen that you wanted to happen. He thought it was like a witch’s spell.” [pg. 24]

He later laughs when he remembers his foolishness for thinking that prayer was like reciting a spell.

Tom has Indian friends and in one scene Ontassete prays to ‘the Great Spirit’.

When Tom and his friends are discussing what they want to do when they are older, Tom says that he wants to fix things so that the poor can go to school just like the rich. It is unclear whether by this he means public, government-funded schooling, or privately-sponsored schooling.

‘Shucks’ is used once.

Conclusion. Like the other books in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series, Thomas Jefferson is interesting and informational while written at the level of younger readers. Purchase a copy here.