In my quest to whittle down my personal library (i.e. actually read the books that I've bought), I began Washington: A Life a month or so ago. I've had this book for several years, but its length always deterred me. I was in the mood for a biography, though, so I dedicated some time every night to reading it. To my amazement, I finished it much faster than I anticipated. Although the narrative clocks in a little over 800 pages (the last hundred pages or so are dedicated to notes and other back matter), it's easily one of the most addictive biographies I've ever read. This gripping read chips away at the stodgy and impassive view many of us probably have of our first president. Washington (or rather, Washington's intellect) is usually unfavorably compared to the more dynamic John Adams or Thomas Jefferson (or James Madison, too), but Ron Chernow shows that Washington had a truly multifaceted personality. I appreciated that, although Chernow is clearly an admirer (it's hard not to be), it's a very balanced look at Washington and doesn't sugarcoat his faults or his inconsistencies. This is a very humanizing portrait of a unique man.
Sitting right next to Washington: A Life was John Adams, so naturally I started that one. I realize I'm probably the last person in America to have read it (it won the Pulitzer, was a New York Times bestseller, and was the basis for HBO's recent miniseries on Adams). It's a fantastic read so far.
I'm planning to run with this presidential biography thing as long as I can, and have already peeked at the books that we own about Thomas Jefferson--luckily, they're not as gigantic, although choosing one will be tricky, for various reasons. If several hundred paged biographies are not your thing, yet you'd still like to bone up on your presidential history, our children's collection has a number of terrific books about the presidents:
The Revolutionary John Adams
Cheryl Harness's biography focuses on Adams's life during the American Revolution. It's an excellent read for third grade and up, with excerpts from John Adams's numerous writings included throughout the text.
Our Country's Presidents
This is probably my favorite single reference book on the presidents. Published by National Geographic, this is a fine overview of each president (published in 2009), including nicknames, official portraits, historical milestones during each presidency, basic factual information, and little-known facts about each president. Intriguing chapters on the electoral college, presidential landmarks, White House traditions, First Ladies, and other fascinating facts are included.
White House Kids
I am drawn to books that teach history through a child's perspective (Kids on Strike, We Were There, Too!, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow, We Rode the Orphan Trains, Shutting Out the Sky, etc), so White House Kids is a favorite. Readers learn about presidential children's pets, education, and the perks and disadvantages of growing up in the White House. It's attractively designed with tons of pictures, paintings, and first-person quotes and anecdotes.
A Picture Book of George Washington
David Adler's A Picture Book Of....biography series is ideal for young readers.
Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
Dolley Madison fascinates me. This fashionable (amazing to think that she grew up Quaker!) society lady showed her gumption and strength when the White House was attacked. This tells the story of how Madison saved the famous portrait of Washington.
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary
I'm very excited about the new Lincoln movie coming out this November. I've read several of our children's biographies on Lincoln; Candace Fleming's is my favorite. Although the format might be a little overwhelming, Fleming brilliantly brings this larger-than-life couple to life, illustrating their many successes and sorrows.
Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame, and What the Neighbors Thought
Kathleen Krull's Lives of the.... series is a fun read. This is her recently updated (2011) version of her original look at the presidents.
This is only a sampling of the great presidential children's books we have--come to your local library to discover more!