Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems about Our Presidents

Marilyn Singer (Author) John Hendrix (Illustrator)

Product Details

Disney Editions
Publish Date
December 17, 2013
8.8 X 11.0 X 0.6 inches | 1.05 pounds
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About the Author

Marilyn Singer is the author of more than one hundred books for children and young adults, including Have You Heard About Lady Bird?: Poems About Our First Ladies; Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents; Feel the Beat!: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing; Mirror Mirror; Echo Echo; and Monster Museum. She lives with her husband and a variety of creatures in Brooklyn, New York, and Washington, Connecticut. Visit her at John Hendrix ( lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife and two children, and teaches illustration at Washington University. He has won numerous awards for his drawings, and his illustrations have been featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. He is the author and illustrator of John Brown: His Fight for Freedom, which was named a Best Book of the Year by Publisher's Weekly, and the illustrator of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale, an ALA Notable Book.


This ambitious rhyming look at America's commander in chief is, like the presidencies themselves, a mixture of hits and misses. Singer's (Follow Follow) attempt both to be breezy and to give a sense of historical sweep can lead to a few awkward moments. "The most peace-loving leaders give up their credos," begins her salute to Wilson, "when faced with attacks from German torpedoes." But she doesn't shy from potentially touchy issues (Reagan's place in history, the Clinton "scandals, the trial, the chagrin"), and she infuses the familiar with new meaning, as in her verse for Teddy Roosevelt: "He took on greedy corporations/ and foreign powers with this trick: / A president should speak quite softly/ but always carry a very large stick." Hendrix's (A Boy Called Dickens) mixed-media, editorial-style portraits are handsome, often incorporating bold typographical quotes from the presidents. He imaginatively links one leader to another (a cut-paper stock market graph portrays the economic trends that led voters from Bush 41 to Clinton, for example) so readers see history not as a series of isolated moments, but as a continuous trajectory. Ages 6 8. (Dec.) PW"
Veteran author and poet Singer turns here to the forty-three men who have held the office of POTUS, giving each a swift, often irreverent poetic treatment. Like presidents, the verses are a varied lot: John Quincy Adams has a rollicking limerick-esque entry that notes "Folks found him a bother/ (as they did his father)"; Lincoln's sparer stanza addresses his fame ("By stovepipe hat, beard, large size, / he's the one we recognize"); Nixon's entry is one of Singer's self-designed "reverso" poems, appropriate for setting his achievements against his ignominy. The poems often have the compactness of epitaphs but a more interesting complexity of meter and wordplay that makes them sophisticated choices for recitation or reading aloud; the literary portraits occasionally skip some key things (McKinley's, for instance, doesn't mention his assassination) but are more often surprisingly thorough in a few short lines. Hendrix's visuals bring it all to life, with full-bleed mixed-media illustrations that combine the caricatured yet careful linework of political cartooning with crisply layered collagework. Quotes from the presidents become three-dimensional and intertwine with their scenes, while well-chosen details and clever approaches (Harrison and Cleveland play musical chairs, McKinley crouches in the shadow of Teddy Roosevelt) add perspective as well as amusement. This could be a springboard for performance, a way to spice up American History, or a Common Core friendly entr e into discussion about the merits of unorthodox presentation of fact. End matter includes a longer description of the office, a collection of presidential biographies, and a list of relevant books and websites. DS BCCB"
This attractive collection of pithy, illustrated verse takes a new look at the 43 American presidents. Each man is represented in a poem, but some share the spotlight with others. Speech balloons from the mouths of Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan are spaced on the page to create one poem, while a more typical entry profiles one president per page, and Washington garners a double-page spread of his own. The appended historical notes represent each president with a tiny portrait, a quote, and an information-packed paragraph commenting on the man and his term in office. Sometimes combining drawn and painted elements with quotes, the artwork is eclectic and expressive. Packed with facts and historical references as well as human interest elements, the rhythmic, rhyming verse may sometimes baffle elementary-school children and even older students without a solid grounding in history and politics. Creative high-school teachers could find ways to use some selections in their classrooms. In fact, almost anyone reading the book will learn something new and find some amusement along the way. - Carolyn Phelan Booklist"
Witty poetry and equally clever caricatures of all 43 presidents create a book that can add spice to serious studies, but it's not for beginners. If the information in the appendix were interspersed with the poems, the less-intelligible ones-such as the four-part conversation among Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan-would begin to make sense. Even so, the backmatter is too spare. For example, only readers who already know such tidbits as the quotation "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" and the slogan "We like Ike" will be able to appreciate lines dedicated to those references. Singer shows mastery of poetic forms, from appropriately "tricky" word wizardry for Nixon to eminently pleasing couplets: " We will return, ' said Cleveland's spouse / the day they left their stately house. / She was right-the chief executive / had four more years (though nonconsecutive)." Some of these work well for reading aloud as a team; the Reagan page offers an excellent opportunity for a choral trio to demonstrate differing opinions about a president. Colorful artwork recalls political cartoons of yore, grounding poems in their respective eras, and highlights presidential quotations. Carefully crafted poetry and artwork ideally suited to history buffs. (author's note, presidential biographies, sources) (Informational picture book/poetry. 9-13) Kirkus"
Gr 4 Up In this impressive collection of poems and matching illustrations, Singer and Hendrix introduce readers to the chronological roster of U.S. presidents, from Washington through Obama. With just a few well-chosen lines, Singer limns the character and/or significance of each man, highlighting Washington's honesty; peace-loving Woodrow Wilson, and feisty Truman: "No one was brasher/than that former haberdasher." In her inimitable verse, she brilliantly captures Nixon's flawed legacy: "Would people remember Watergate, nothing but Watergate?" Some presidents are treated singly; others are grouped together, such as former friends and political adversaries John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Hendrix's pen-and-ink illustrations match Singer's nuanced text: undersized James Madison faces down British ships standing on a soapbox, and an oversize William Howard Taft holds a rubber ducky in his custom-made bathtub. In the exaggerated style of political cartoons, they add wit and insightful detail. End materials offer more factual information including a paragraph on each president. There are many great books about U.S. presidents, and this one follows in the footsteps of Alice Provensen's classic The Buck Stops Here (HarperCollins, 1992) and Judith St. George's So You Want to Be President (Philomel, 2000). Most libraries will want to make room for this one; it's a wonderful teaching tool for U.S. history and a delightful, readable book for a wide audience of browsers. Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA SLJ"
"Who were these men / who had what it took / to be commander in chief of all the armed forces, / to suggest what to do with our country's resources?" Forty-three presidents receive thirty-nine poems here; Grover Cleveland gets two-one for each nonconsecutive term in office. Unlike Susan Katz's The President's Stuck in the Bathtub (rev. 5/12), which focused on quirky traits, this volume touches on more sophisticated subjects such as political ideology, foreign policy, and domestic programs. In a single poem Thomas Jefferson and John Adams debate their political differences. Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan engage in a four-way conversation about states' rights, while Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren examine Manifest Destiny in a two-voiced poem. (Poor old William Howard Taft, however, is still stuck in the bathtub, as his corpulence seems to override national issues.) A quote from George Washington in a bold hand-lettered font opens the book, and with the poem positioned on the facing page, readers have space to contemplate its meaning. In other cases, however, the richly colored art overwhelms the text; for example, William Henry Harrison's poem is lost in the swirling storm that surrounds him as he delivers his inaugural address (but then again, that weather also overpowered the man, causing the pneumonia that killed him). Brief biographical notes of each president give pertinent, but abbreviated, background information; sources are included. betty carter Horn Book"