Remember the Ladies: Celebrate Presidents' Day with Kids' Books about Women in the White House

remember the ladies presidents day book long enough

"And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." -- Abigail Adams in a 1776 letter to her husband, John.

Oh, how I love that quote. Abigail Adams meant business, and she and her husband John had an unusually egalitarian, intellectual relationship for the late 18th century. If you'd like to know more about this witty, brilliant first lady, read this or watch this

Presidents' Day got me thinking about first ladies, instead of presidents. There are some really neat books out there about first ladies, and a superbly clever one about a first daughter. And then I remembered a couple of picture books that are fictional, about girls who want to be president, and I wanted to share those with you, too. I'm looking forward to the day when we can count a woman among the presidents of the United States. Until then, let's celebrate by sharing these titles.

Eleanor: Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport and Gary Kelley

I'm starting off with Eleanor Roosevelt because she's one of my favorite people of all time, and because she's largely credited with changing the role of first lady from hostess to activist. Doreen Rappaport has a stellar reputation as a class-A children's biographer, and she's clearly done her homework for this picture book, once again. Here's what School Library Journal said about Eleanor: 

Starred Review. Grades 3–8. Once again Rappaport celebrates a noble, heroic life in powerful, succinct prose, with prominent, well-chosen, and judiciously placed quotes that both instruct and inspire. From her lonely childhood to her transformative education in Europe and marriage to Franklin Roosevelt, the subject is portrayed as a serious, intelligent, hardworking humanitarian. Despite the picture-book format, students get enough background and information to appreciate the woman's outstanding qualities and contributions as well as enough details for reports.

Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appely and Joy Fisher Hein

From a lonely childhood in the Piney Woods of East Texas to an exciting life in the White House, Lady Bird Johnson loved these wildflowers with all her heart. They were her companions in her youth, greeting her everywhere as she explored wild forests, bayous, and hills. Later, as First Lady, she sought to bring the beauty of wildflowers to America's cities and highways. She wanted to make sure every child could enjoy the splendor of wildflowers.

Abigail Adams: First Lady of the American Revolution by Patricia Lakin, Bob Dacey, and Debra Bandelin

This may very well be the only easy reader biography of a first lady currently in print. It's written for kids reading at roughly a second to third grade reading level. And it was named to the American Library Association's Amelia Bloomer List

The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming has an outstanding reputation for middle and high school biographies, not to mention picture books for younger audiences. In this award-winning book for kids ages 10 to 14, Fleming gives Mary Todd just as much coverage as her famous husband. In a starred review, School Library Journal wrote: 

Presented in period typefaces, the boxed bits of text, sidebars, and numerous running heads and subheads add detail. From portraits to pets, the book contains a wide variety of graphics, including written and visual primary documents that enrich every spread. Notes, resources, and source notes are exemplary. It's hard to imagine a more engaging or well-told biography of the Lincolns.

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington by Don Brown

In a starred review, Kirkus said:

Brown continues his string of exemplary biographies for younger readers with this profile of the most charming, charismatic and intrepid first lady ever. Between shorter looks at DolleyMadison's earlier and later life, he focuses on her leading role in Washington society and her courage during the War of 1812. After the soldiers who were supposed to guard the presidential mansion fled, she lingered to make sure that a life-sized Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington was removed before the occupying British could destroy it, and then disguised herself as a farm woman to get away.

Madam President: The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics by Candace Thimmesh and Douglas B. Jones

In a starred review, Booklist wrote:

Delightful and informative in equal parts, Thimmesh's collective biography profiles women who took up the fight for women's political rights. A story about a girl who is ridiculed for wanting to be president frames the introduction to the many women who have cleared the path that will eventually lead to a female president. Divided into groups such as suffragettes, First Ladies, and politicians in the U.S and around the world ... Jones' pencil artwork, colored using Photoshop, makes the book so enticing. [T]he illustrations personalize both the long list of women who have stepped up as well as the girl who is inspired by their stories. 

Madam President works best for kids ages nine to 14.

Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies by Cokie Roberts and Diane Goode

Who could ask for better than NPR journalist Cokie Roberts and award-winning children's illustrator Diane Goode, all in one book? Kirkus gave this one a starred review:

[A]n attractive and compelling version for young people of Roberts' adult book of the same title. Goode's illustrations are often breathtaking. On the endpapers, she has reproduced in sepia tones with antique pens some of the source documents that allow readers to know these women. Roberts' lively text is illuminated with flourishes and curlicues along with winsome or whimsical portraits in what looks like ink and watercolor. Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and Martha Washington are included of course, and there's also Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote letters and poems championing the cause of freedom, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, whose "little schemes" included raising silkworms and cultivating indigo as a cash crop. It is a wonderful package, adding the women who made it work to the men we thought we all knew. 

What to Do About Alice: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham

I cannot say enough good stuff about this exciting, hilarious look at Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice. Read my full review here. 

First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew by Robbin Gurley

School Library Journal wrote in its review:

Beginning with an introduction to the White House and its grounds, Gourley then describes some of the children who have lived there and the ways in which they used the outdoor space. A portrait of the Obama family introduces the section on gardening for food at the White House, from John Adams in 1800 through Eleanor Roosevelt in 1943. The narrative then turns to Michelle Obama and how she invited children from nearby schools to help prepare the soil, plant, cultivate, and ultimately cook and eat the produce; how the White House chefs became involved in the process; and how food from the First Garden now helps feed the Obamas as well as people at a Washington, DC, homeless shelter. A beautiful and timely addition.

Madam President by Lane Smith

Lane Smith produces original, witty children's books, and this one received two starred reviews. 

A little girl imagines what her day would be like if she were Madam President. There would be executive orders to give, babies to kiss, tuna casseroles to veto (or VETO!) and so much more! Not to mention that recess would definitely require more security.

With deadpan wit and hilarious illustrations, best-selling picture book creator Lane Smith introduces readers to an unforgettable new character.

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham

An offering from two talented picture book creators!

"Where are the girls?" When Grace's teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school's mock election! Author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought--and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.

Imogene's Last Stand by Candace Fleming and Nancy Carpenter

Another Amelia Bloomer List winner! School Library Journal wrote:

Imogene is a feisty child who loves history and spouts quotes from famous people on all occasions. When she discovers the now-abandoned Historical Society building in her New Hampshire town, she cleans it up and opens it as a museum. No one comes. Then one morning she finds a sign posted outside the building stating that it will be torn down to make room for a shoelace factory. Imogene tries to enlist the aid of the mayor and other influential people, but they all say that the factory will put them on the map. At the last minute, she finds a letter in the museum that was written by George Washington to indicate that he had slept there. The President of the United States (an African-American woman) appears and declares the museum a national landmark.

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Everyday American Civil Rights Heroes: Kids Books About Regular People Who Dared to Stand Up

I'm participating in a series of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day resources for kids, a non-profit collaborative effort spearheaded by Multicultural Kid Blogs. Take a look here to find out what other bloggers wrote about to celebrate this national holiday. 

You've heard of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Crazy Horse, and Cesar Chavez. Your kids may have, too. They're certainly people worth knowing about. But what about non-famous, everyday American people who exhibited enormous courage in the face of racism, discrimination, and segregation? And how about fictional characters that give us a bird's eye view of incredible bravery? Below are non-fiction and fiction titles, for kids of all ages, that teach young people about unknown people who dared to fight for civil rights.

Non-fiction Picture Books for Kids Ages 6-10

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Let me start by noting that pretty much any book Kadir Nelson has collaborated on or written is worth your time. This one is an overview of African-American history, from slavery to Barack Obama's election, as told through the voice of a fictional 100-year-old black woman. It won many awards. Nelson's oil paintings and the narrator's words are equally stunning.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

The Pinkneys introduce elementary schoolers to a seminal event in the American Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, which took place 55 years ago. This one was awarded multiple recognitions.

We March by Shane W. Evans

This simple. but powerful, picture book features a family preparing to participate in, and marching as part of, the 1963 March on Washington. With only a few words per page, you can share this one with kids as young as five years old.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon

This award-winning, critically-acclaimed picture book tells of the Selma march through the perspective of the author, whose father, Andrew Young, was a mover and shaker in the Civil Rights Movement.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

This picture book, which tells the story of the integration of California schools by a Mexican-American family decades before Brown v. Board of Education, fills a gaping hole in American popular history. It's also accessible and interesting, and was one of my favorite new kids books of 2014. Read my full review here.

This Is the Dream by Diane Z. Shore, Jessica Alexander, and James Ransome

While this beautiful poetry and art collection features famous people of the Civil Rights Movement, it also focuses on the everyday heroes who made change happen during the era. One of the nice things about this book is that it's appropriate for a wide range of ages, from about age six on up to adults. (Also, I've categorized this one as non-fiction, because it's a poetry collection, and that's where we shelve poetry in the library.)

Fictional Picture Books for Kids Ages 6-10

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson and Eric Velasquez

A visceral story of a civil rights march told through the eyes of two fictional girls. Powerful, quiet, and a tribute to the children of the movement. 

Freedom Song: The Story of Henry "Box" Brown by Sally M. Walker and Sean Qualls

A fictionalized account of real-life slave Henry "Box" Brown," who stowed away in a crate to escape slavery. This book received several starred reviews upon its publication in 2012.

Goin' Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney

In this tender story of 1950s Tennessee, a grandmother teachers her granddaughter to hold her head high, despite Jim Crow laws and the indignity of segregation.

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

I fell in love with this powerful, wordless picture book when it was released in 2012. It's the story of a white girl and a young slave who encounter each other as the latter seeks to escape via the Underground Railroad. It's also a powerful affirmation to kids of just how important their role can be when it comes to making a moral choice and doing the right thing. It garnered many accolades, too.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and E. B. Lewis

Woodson's poetic prose shines alongside Lewis' powerful illustrations in this tale of two girls of different races who decide to play their friendship out sitting on a fence when they learn that neither is allowed to cross over to "the other side." 

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee

This powerful, award-winning picture book demonstrates how a young boy used baseball to deal with discrimination on and off the field. It focuses on the Japanese-American experience during the World War II internment camps, as well as after.

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, and Floyd Cooper

Even though I majored in history in college, and took every American history class I possibly could, I had never heard of the Green Book until I read this story. Just goes to show you how much adults can learn from children's literature! Green Books were essentially AAA-like travel guides for African-American families during the Jim Crow era. With these in hand, black families could find restaurants, gas stations, and other places in the south that were willing to serve African-Americans. In this unique picture book,young Ruth becomes the family member in charge of the Green Book on a road trip from Chicago to Atlanta in 1952. 

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome

This classic picture book, which has been in print for more than 20 years, has a particularly creative storyline, in which a young girl stitches a map into a quilt to help slaves escape on the Underground Railroad.

Non-fiction for Kids Ages 10 and Up

Above are six non-fiction titles on everyday civil rights heroes that are appropriate for kids ages 10 and above. 

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman won four major awards and starred reviews from every major children's book journal. While Freedman covers the major players in the boycott, special emphasis is placed on forgotten and everyday participants.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose tells the remarkable true story of an Alabama teen who refused to give up her bus seat just months before Rosa Parks did the same, but was largely forgotten by history. You can see from the four medals on the front of the book that this one is not to be missed.

Leon's Story by Leon Walter Tillage and Susan Roth features the autobiographical story of a sharecropping family in the Jim Crow era, as told through the eyes of a young boy. 

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield was published last year. It provides a fascinating look at a brave teenage girl who led her segregated Virginia school peers on a walkout in 1951, years before the more famous aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin was also published in 2014, and is expected to make a serious showing during the 2015 book awards season. After a deadly 1944 explosion at a segregated navy base, hundreds of men refused to report for duty until unsafe conditions were remedied. Fifty of the men were accused of mutiny, a charge that still stands today.

Fictional Chapter Books for Kids Ages 10 and Up

The seven chapter books above tell the story of the struggle for American civil rights through the eyes of fictional children and teens.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levineis a novel about two girls, one black and one white, willing to cross the color line to be friends in the Jim Crown 1960s south.

Day of Tears by Julius Lester is the fictionalized account of a slave family torn apart by an auction in 1859. Told in multiple voices, Lester's novel is critically acclaimed. 

Revolution by Deborah Wiles was published last year to multiple starred reviews. It was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. It's told from the point of view of a white girl and a black boy living in Mississippi on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. It contains documentary images interspersed throughout the narrative. 

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata is a novel about a young Japanese-American girl whose life is turned upside down when she and her family are forced into a World War II internment camp.

Trouble Don't Last by Shelley Pearsall is the tale of a slave boy's escape along the Underground Railroad from Kentucky to Canada. Infused with adventure and suspense, it won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson was a National Book Award finalist and won the Scott O'Dell Award. It features Isabelle, a teenage slave willing to do anything to attain freedom, even spy for the Rebels during the American Revolution. 

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan garnered multiple starred reviews and won the Pura Belpré Award. Esperanza is a young girl forced to emigrate from Mexico to a migrant farming community in California during the Great Depression. 

My Name is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson is the critically-acclaimed, fictionalized account of the author's husband's experience as a 12-year-old Native American student living at a Catholic boarding school in the 1960s. (Please note that this title is generally appropriate for kids ages 12 and up.) 

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