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Obama-mania hits the kids’ shelves January 17, 2009

Whether you were an Obama supporter or not, he is indeed our 44th President-elect. And our children need to know about him. Fortunately, to help our efforts, Barack Obama-bios abound for the juvenile market, from the board books crowd to pretty good  junior biography.

And unlike some cloying titles that appeared at election time — like the puffed up Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope —  more down to earth titles have emerged that offer useful, objective information and good profiles of our new president and even his First Lady to be, Michelle.

Here’s a little tour of some of the better Obama titles now lining the juvenile section shelves:

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



White House the Star of New Children’s Book October 2, 2008

Whether the winner of our upcoming Presidential election in November is named Barack Obama or John McCain, one thing is for certain: he’ll be moving into the hallowed halls of the White House come January. (I wish I could state the exact date the term starts. It was a question on a recent Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, which I occasionally watch with my fifth grader. Obviously I am way too removed from fifth grade to answer questions like that.) 

But back to the very cool point, which is naturally attached to a children’s book. An absolutely riveting new picture/coffee table book avoids all the election controversy and talk of electoral colleges and political parties and gives us a tribute to the structure that has remained constant since John Adams first brought in his bags in 1800: The White House.

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, published just last month by the often innovative Candlewick Press, is a virtual who’s who among the stars of the juvenile book world, big-name authors and illustrators including Katherine Paterson, David Macaulay, Eric Carle and Patricia and Fredrick McKissack. This collection of their offerings in the form of essays, artwork, personal accounts, and other creative contributions including poetry was gathered by the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance.

Taking us from the design stage to the lifestyles of presidential pets and children to wartime to the press room, the creators give us much more to chew on than you might even think one building, however historic, could offer. The roles of immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans are explored as well.

A companion Web site,, includes many other resources on the White House and American history.

This is a much-needed book that won’t fade away after the big election is over.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



Politics hits the kids’ book market September 15, 2008

Until I read about Republican Presidential nominee John McCain’s daughter Meghan’s new book about her dad — an impressive-looking hardcover published by Simon & Schuster, issued this month — I was unaware of all the politicking going on in the children’s book market.

Well, a search for reviews of Meghan’s book, aptly titled My Dad, John McCain and beautifully illustrated by Dan Andreasenon Amazon turned up a whole collection of books on the major candidates seemingly created to train the minds of the kiddies.

Simon & Schuster is also behind the publication of the grandly titled Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes. One expects a naturally adoring tone from the work of a child about her own father.  But the reviews for Barack Obama echo my sentiment that the “worshipful” tone of this book would be more suited for someone like Martin Luther King Jr., a revered figure who’s more than earned his place in history, not a political hopeful.

But there’s more: for those little girls who need a female political role model, we have Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight by Kathleen Krull, another appealingly illustrated  hardcover that probably didn’t quite sell as well as Clinton supporters might have hoped earlier in the year.

Obviously these books are strategically released as campaign material. Most are quickly generated, over-fluffed political propaganda (at best — the Obama book has even been cited as an exercise in “Messianic creepiness”). But what’s their purpose? Certainly not to turn the minds of kiddie undecideds. Their cloying tone would indicate most of these titles are published so parents will snap them up for their children “to show them who Mommy and Daddy are voting for.”

I’m not saying that’s bad, I just wish there were better reads to give the kids, that juvenile books weren’t dragged into the slap-something-together election frenzy. But if I had to buy one, regardless of my political bent I’d say Meghan McCain’s book is the more genuinely informative and less icky.

If you want a new book with which to teach your kids something about politics, here’s a middle-ground choice among the kiddie election books released this year: check out If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier. At least it describes the process, instead of subjecting children to overblown praise of people whose hoped-for greatness has not been realized.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



What Obama and McCain do have in common September 7, 2008

Filed under: In the News — jbmcqueen @ 11:09 am
Tags: , , , , ,

As the media go into overdrive dissecting the political candidates entrenched in the upcoming Presidential election, it makes sense to take a look at the two presidential nominees from a literary standpoint.

Why? Because Barack Obama and John McCain have something fundamental in common other than big plans and ambition. They both embody a literary truism demonstrated in former presidents and politicians from Abraham Lincoln to the Kennedys: the greats read the greats.

The Washington Post recently ran a piece describing the upbringing of Democratic nominee Obama, citing the influence of his mother, anthropologist Stanley Ann Dunham, who passed on to her children a deep appreciation for challenging, classical writers and philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Hegel, Mill and Marx.

As Post education columnist Jay Mathews points out, “She prepared them to appreciate such teaching themselves, excel at demanding colleges and embrace careers — law for Obama, history teaching for his sister — that depended on aggressive thinking, the epitome of what a good president or a good educator does.”

A look at the literary background of Republican nominee McCain reveals a similar exposure to the work of deep thinkers and classical writers. His father and teachers made sure he tackled rigorous works like Edward Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy, brother of and Attorney General to John F. Kennedy, left behind written testament to his self taught, rich literary nature in Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy, a collection of journal entries and the literate speeches for which he was known.  In it, we see how familiarity with the Greek classics, Camus, and other literary greats translates into powerful words, no matter what era we live in.

So do the greats make men and women great? In the words of a perhaps not flowery but astute person, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It’s always under debate whether young people should be forced to read and report on “the classics.” (As an English major, of course, I’m with the classics, but I actually liked them.) And most young people need to be able to enjoy the fun stuff along with the brain-bending in order to cultivate a reading habit.

But I don’t think it’s any surprise that thinking people who are exposed to lofty ideas from the youngest of ages include the two formidable men the entire nation is comparing and contrasting to determine our country’s future.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever