White House Kids by Joe Rhatigan

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White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children by Joe Rhatigan (Imagine Publishing, 2012) provides a fun and colorful picture of the history of children in the White House. From George Washington’s stepdaughter to the Obama girls, White House Kids gives an interesting portrait of how life changed for the children of the nation’s most well-known public official. It’s not easy being a kid and being thrust into the limelight while still a child obviously brings an entirely new set of difficulties.

I’m not usually interested in pop culture celebrity biographies, but White House Kids provided an interesting contrast to other celebrity biographies out there. Because of the historical nature of the White House and the presidents, reading this book gave historical insight into the presidents. A number of things surprised me about White House Kids, mostly because of the breadth it covered through history and the interest it provides for youth today who may be interested in history, the presidents, as well as current “celebrity kids” like Malia and Sasha Obama.

For example, it was interesting to learn that in earlier years, some children who lived in the White House were not the biological children of the presidents, such as the six children of Andrew Jackson’s wife’s niece and the grandchildren of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Can you imagine the distraction?

Further, some situations for the children of politicians have obviously changed over the past 200 years of United States history. Mollie Garfield, daughter of James Garfield, walked to school from the White House, while recent children of the president (including the Obamas to Chelsea Clinton) travel to a popular private school in an armored SUV every day.  Children were used in political ads (Baby Ruth was the newborn daughter of Grover Cleveland) and as ways to boost political images (think John F. Kennedy’s children and you think of a loving, sensitive father). On the other hand, in recent times, the press has taken free reign in insulting and criticizing the children of the presidents. Poor Amy Carter was nine or ten when she entered the White House, and her life seems to have been an effort to forget the awful time she had! Twelve-year-old Chelsea Clinton likewise was mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit for being ugly! What preteen needs that?

On the other hand, some of the anecdotes of the children in the White House were simply hilarious! Teddy Roosevelt’s kids were pretty riotous, and the president seemed to take things in stride. Races down the stairs, adding mustaches to the White House portraits, jumping out to yell “boo” to tourists during a White House tour: 100 years ago, the White House was quite a noisy place.

Obviously, the presidents of the United States are humans, and White House Kids gave us a glimpse of the “parent” side of the presidents through history by focusing on the kids who may or may not have wanted to follow their father to the top office in the land. With full-color pictures, call-outs, bullets, and informational boxes, White House Kids is designed well for its young middle-grade audience. It’s an enjoyable and trivia-packed book.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Reviewed on October 5, 2012

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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