A Glimpse Into Our White House

h1 October 23rd, 2008 by jules


“Despite revelations of appalling presidential ineptitude, or humiliating misbehavior, or pitiable poll standings, the dog will never vote to impeach his master.”
Steven Kellogg in “The Presidential Pet”
from
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

School Library Journal has used words such as “inspired” and “powerful” to describe this book; Publishers Weekly called it “provocative,” adding that it “makes the invaluable point that history does not have to be remote or abstract, but a personal and ongoing engagement”; and both Kirkus Reviews and September’s Notes from the Horn Book have called it a “sumptuous” volume. What I’m talking about is Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (published by Candlewick in September 2008), in which over one hundred contemporary writers and artists use everything from stories to poems to essays to personal accounts to presidential letters to speeches to comics to historical records and more to show us, as Gregory Maguire puts it in the opening entry, that “{t}here are as many views, looking in and out of the White House windows, as there are eyes to look.” At almost 250 pages, it was conceived and co-created by the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance, a not-for-profit literary organization founded in 1997 and composed of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators, and evidently was eight years in the making.

I’m here today to share a bit of art from the book. Opening the post is one of Steven Kellogg’s illustrations from his entry, “The Presidential Pet,” featuring George Washington and his hounds. Did I mention this is one very handsome, beautifully-designed book and that it’s teeming with original art? (The cover art is by David Macaulay.) If you are an admirer of picture-book art, this is a volume for which you should carve out some time. And it’s a very browsable volume, indeed — one can take in a bit here, a bit there. I’ve yet to complete it myself, but I’ve spent many hours poring over the art and enjoying the entries from such authors and illustrators as: Polly Horvath, Sophie Blackall, M.T. Anderson, Don Powers, Jon Scieszka, Calef Brown, Mark Teague, David Small, Jim LaMarche, R. Gregory Christie, Patricia C. McKissack, Stephen Alcorn, Chris Raschka, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Meltzer, Kathleen Krull, Kate DiCamillo (in a very beautiful, very moving entry, illustrated by Chris Sheban), Virginia Euwer Wolff, Leonard Marcus, Kevin Hawkes…and the list goes on and on. Yeah, there’s a reason you’ll see “star-studded” attached to many descriptions of this book.

Art Break: Here’s S.D. Schindler’s depiction of Thomas Jefferson and his garden from Stephanie Loer’s entry about the White House Colonical Kitchen Gardens (“The early White House gardens featured a variety of vegetables and herbs, including corn, beans, and pumpkins grown with a planting technique learned from American Indians”):


“Thomas Jefferson was a man ahead of his time when it came to tomatoes.”

So, where was I? Yes, quickly — back to the entries in this splendid book, and then we’ll close up with two more pieces of art from it:

This is truly a treasure for history buffs everywhere, no matter what age, especially those who, it goes without saying, are particularly fond of American history. Arranged chronologically, it opens with the early White House years, including a piece from Walter Dean Myers about how slaves helped construct the house to Barbara Kerley’s tale of Thomas Jefferson’s fascination with fossils, decades before the discovery of dinosaurs (with an illustration both gorgeous and creepy from Brian Selznick of Jefferson with the mammoth bones shipped to him from William Clark spread all over the floor of the unfinished East Room in the White House). Part II covers the White House’s growing years from “The White House Prepares for War: 1812″ by Ralph Ketcham to Joseph Bruchac’s description of the American Indian’s relationship with the presidential home, including a stunning illustration from Max Grafe. Part III covers “annexation and division,” including the Civil War years. And the book continues with a total of seven major sections, the latter ones including more personal profiles of those great names who have inhabited the home.

Here’s the illustration from Patricia MacLachlan’s “Hands,” the story of a young girl who meets Eleanor Roosevelt, illustrated by P.J. Lynch:


“‘I bet you’re an Eleanor, aren’t you?’
Ellie nods.
‘Well, I am an Eleanor, too,’ says the woman.”

And here is Petra Mathers’ depiction of John Adams from Jane Yolen’s “The White House First Residents: An Imagined Conversation Between John Adams and Abigail Adams”:

Dearest John, the House is large.
The rooms are many; I have been lost.

Dearest Abigail, it’s not a home.
It’s far too grand; I count the cost…

This is a handsome book, a fascinating compilation, and a must-have for public and school libraries.

BONUS: Calef Brown’s wonderful entry, “Freedom of Speech,” currently graces the front page of his web site. Go see! Go see! Can you spot the lady blogging at “Bloggy Blog Blog”? Can that be 7-Imp’s secret agent name, please?

* * * * * * *

All illustrations from OUR WHITE HOUSE. Compilation copyright © 2008 by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. Illustration © 2008 Steven Kellogg. Illustration © 2008 S.D. Schindler. Illustration © 2008 P.J. Lynch. Illustration © 2008 Petra Mathers. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.





9 comments to “A Glimpse Into Our White House

  1. This is really cool! Although I am giggling at naming a dog Sweet Lips… and Tipsy, Tippler and DRUNKARD!? Was it really about the dogs, at that point?

    The P.J. Lynch illustration is my favorite especially because of the little girl’s grin, which so matches Eleanor’s. Beautiful.


  2. Great minds think alike! I was just getting ready to review this book. It’s awesome on all counts, and I agree, a must-have.


  3. It was fantastic to hear some of the authors read from this at the National Book Festival, but alas, I didn’t want to wait in line to buy a copy. But I’m thinking it might be a good gift for my niece, since she’ll be back and forth to DC for awhile.


  4. Sara, the McKissacks and Lynda Johnson Robb and others followed the session I hosted at the Southern Festival of Books, and they discussed this. I couldn’t attend, as I had further volunteer work to do. Boy, did I miss out, I’m sure.

    It would, indeed, be a great gift. Very browsable, as I said. Beautiful art.

    TadMack, “Drunkard” made me laugh, too.

    Jama, looking forward to your post…


  5. I have to get a copy of this for Lucas. He’s nuts about anything DC-related since we visited a couple years back.


  6. Oh I think we must have this book! Calef Brown, Jane Yolen, Kevin Hawkes … so much talent. Thanks for the glimpse into this new book. I’ll have to spend some time with the links : )


  7. So many of the entries y’all post here make me long for a time machine, so I could rewind and do library science instead of communications… And the ones that don’t make me wish for that, make me wish I could be a kid NOW and have some of these books before me, with a kid’s eyes.

    What a project this must have been to organize and see to completion. The work (the samples above and at the NCBLA’s own Web site) looks terrific. Have you gone through the list of authors and illustrators and checked off the ones you’ve already interviewed? There y’go: your goal by July 4th ’09 — fill in the gaps. :)


  8. [...] also contributed short graphic stories to the anthologies Our White House (”Hoover’s One Term”) and Sideshow (”Jargo!”), both from [...]


  9. [...] this profile of author/illustrator Claire A. Nivola (in celebration of this 2008 Candlewick title), she states, “Writing for children is a serious business.” Claire would know. Her [...]


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