Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reading Through History: Story of the Presidents of the United States of America by Maud and Miska Petersham (1953)

Published in 1953, this nonfiction book written at the middle grade level presents short biographies of every president from Washington to Eisenhower. Each short essay is between 1 and 3 pages long and tells where the presidents were born, how they came to be elected president, what happened during their presidencies, and, where applicable (at the time), how they died. The illustrations are pen-and-ink renderings of the presidents themselves, along with other scenery related to the time period in which they served.

I started reading this book to my four-year-old on Presidents Day because she was curious about the day and we didn't have a lot of other books on the subject. I initially thought we would read just the first two or three chapters, but we were both enjoying it so much, we wound up reading the whole book over the course of a couple of weeks. While much of the information did go over her head, she loved all the little bits of trivia we uncovered, such as the fact that more presidents seem to have died in July than in any other month. She took an interest in some of the vocabulary, soaking up words like term, campaign, assassination, and election. She also loved getting little glimpses into how life changed over nearly 200 years of our country's history.

The details about the issues of the day during each presidency are probably the strongest part of the book overall. I was never given such a thorough picture of the development of this country when I was a kid, and I learned many new bits of information as I was reading. I also appreciated the balance between interesting biographical facts that would be appealing to kids and information about the presidencies themselves. Each president came across as a real human being, and because I could relate to them as people I was more interested in their accomplishments (and failures) as presidents.

While this book's age prevents it from being a complete history resource unto itself, what is included in the book is perfect for beginning history students . The text also works really well as a read-aloud, both because the chapters are short and because the language is very pleasing to the ear. I will definitely plan to use this book more extensively when we begin studying history more seriously in a few years.

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