I recently had a baby boy, who I named Lincoln. The response I’ve gotten, almost nine times out of a ten is, “That’s a strong name.” It is. Obviously everyone associates it with the sixteenth president (though I’ll be honest, I really got it from a TV show). That said, I figured if you’re going to saddle your kid with a famous name, then you at least need to educate him on his namesake.
Quirk recently released their own book of kid presidents (appropriately named Kid Presidents), and since I’ve recently become very well versed on children’s books featuring American presidents, I figured I’d compile a list of my favorites (and funniest). After-all, President’s Day is almost here!
I Am Abraham Lincoln
by Brad Meltzer (Author), Christopher Eliopoulos (Illustrator)
Dial, 2014, Age Range: 5 - 8 years
With a kid named Lincoln, you’ve got to start with Abe. This book is part of Meltzer’s best selling “I am” series, which covers everyone from Honest Abe to Amelia Earhart. What will draw you in are the illustrations; the cartoons are cute, clever and humorous. And the prose is conversational and very assessable to kids. For Lincoln, the story focuses on how he always stayed true to what he knew was right, from saving a turtle from bullies to freeing the country from slavery.
John, Paul, George & Ben
by Lane Smith (Author, Illustrator)
Disney-Hyperion, 2006, Age Range: 3 - 7 years
This is my favorite book on the list. I really think it’s written for adults, because there’s only so much Dr. Seuss you can read before you start going nutty. It features John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. And yes, a couple of those guys weren’t presidents, but they were founding fathers so I think the book still counts. It’s incredible witty, focusing on how these men took a few “liberties” that were not always appreciated, but ultimately led to them creating the country.
One of my favorite passages is about Jefferson: “Tom was an independent lad. One day his teacher, Mr. Douglas, asked the class to make birdhouses by gluing macaroni to ye old balsa wood. Tom happily ignored him and used traditional building materials in a neoclassical design.”
Yo Millard Fillmore! (And all those other Presidents you don't know)
by Will Cleveland (Author), Mark Alvarez (Author), Tate Nation (Illustrator)
Prospecta Press, 2011, Grade Level: 2 - 9
It’s not just a book, but a mnemonic device. With crazy cartoons and comic-book style captions, these nonsensical tales help you learn the presidents. It claims you can memorize all 44—in chronological order—in just twenty minutes. Give it a shot.
President Adams' Alligator: and Other White House Pets
by Peter W. Barnes (Illustrator), Cheryl S. Barnes (Illustrator)
Little Patriot Press, 2013, Age Range: 6 - 10 years
When you think about presidential pets, you think of George W’s dog Barney or Obama’s dog Bo. But did you know that John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in the bathtub? Could you imagine the reaction if the Obamas did that? And that’s not the only strange pet. According to this book, presidential families had pet snakes, raccoons, bears, cows, mice, and more. Teddy Roosevelt's pony, Algonquin, used to ride up the White House elevator. It’s the presidential biography you haven’t been told.
Who Was John F. Kennedy?
by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Author), Jill Weber (Illustrator), Nancy Harrison (Illustrator)
Grosset & Dunlap, 2004, Age Range: 8 - 12 years
The “Who Was…” series of biographies profile everyone from Elvis to Sacajawea to the American Presidents. In this book, JFK’s fight with scarlet fever as a toddler is featured along with his heroic days in WWII and his election as the nation’s youngest leader. It includes 100 black-and-white illustrations as well as a timeline that guides readers through this eventful period in history.
George Washington: First President 1789-1797 (Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents)
by Mike Venezia (Author, Illustrator)
Children's Press, 2005, Age Range: 6 and up
Venezia's “Getting to Know…” series covers artists, composers, and presidents. All 44 POTUSes are featured with a mix of historical paintings and silly cartoons that admittedly take a few artistic liberties. For example, I doubt Washington’s military crew worried about bringing Christmas presents when they crossed the Delaware River. But don’t worry, the actual text keeps to the facts and is written simply enough for kids to understand and enjoy.
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
by Barack Obama (Author), Loren Long (Illustrator)
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, Grade Level: Kindergarten - 12
I saved this one for last, because it’s the only book on the list actually written by a president. In a series of letters to his daughters, President Barack Obama offers tributes to thirteen groundbreaking Americans. This includes painter Georgia O'Keeffe, baseball player Jackie Robinson, scientist Albert Einstein, astronaut Neil Armstrong, among others. It celebrates their unique characteristics and highlights the potential he sees in his own daughters, and ultimately in all of our kids.