Monday, February 09, 2009

Book Review: Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out (Age 10 - Adult)

Would you like to take a peek inside the White House? Have you ever wondered what takes place behind those walls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Well, I've recently discovered an inspiring and beautifully illustrated book that takes you back in history, so that you can learn about the people who built this building, those who lived in it, and discover some interesting facts that perhaps you did not know. Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out was created by 108 renowned authors and illustrators and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. The book is introduced by historian David McCullough.

The collection includes essays, poems, short stories, letters, speeches, comics and illustrations. Some of the writings are inspirational, some are humorous, and some are filled with energy and excitement. You will discover that most of the White House inhabitants, including presidents and first ladies, share with us many of the same joys and concerns that we all experience. One example given is a letter written by Mary Todd Lincoln expressing her extreme grief after the death of her eleven year-old son, Willie:

"When Willie died of the fever,

Abraham spoke the words

that I could not:

"My boy is gone.

He is actually gone."


The word was poison,

but poison that would not kill,

only gag me with its bitterness

as I choked on a prayer for my death."

As you read this mother's words, I'm sure that you can sense the extreme anguish that she expressed after the death of her son. We can only imagine the sorrow that must have filled her heart with every word she wrote. So much of the author's pain is revealed in her writing and selection of words.

The book also contains some interesting facts that you might not know about the White House. Did you know that during the early days , there was a kitchen garden which featured a variety of vegetables and herbs including root crops, cabbages, peas, squash, onions, lettuce, cucumbers and radishes? You will discover the unsettling fact that President Harry S. Truman was once awakened at four o'clock in the morning to the eerie sound of a ghost knocking on his door and footsteps pacing the hallway floor. You will learn about a cow that once grazed the White House lawn.

The anthology contains some beautiful prose about "The White House by Moonlight" by Walt Whitman. Whitman writes: "To-night took a long look at the President's house. The white portico- the palace-like, tall, round columns, spotless as snow-the walls also- the tender and soft moonlight, flooding the pale marble, and making peculiar faint languishing shades, not
shadows . . "

You will learn some interesting facts:

The White House was set ablaze in August 1814, during the War of 1812. The building suffered extensive damage.

The walls of the White House are filled with five hundred spectacular paintings of famous and less well-known individuals. There are five portraits of American Indians courtesy of President James Monroe.

The First Presidential Children to live in the White House were Lincoln's younger sons, eight-year-old Tad and eleven-year-old Willie.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote more than thirty-five books on a broad range of subjects including politics, biography, natural history, literary criticism and philosophy. He also found time to write more than 150,000 letters.

The leg of President Harry S. Truman's Steinway piano came crashing through the floor of the second-story study. The entire building was in need of restoration. From 1948 to 1952, the Trumans could not live in the White House.

I've taken a tour through American history by reading this spectacular collection of literature. Sit down with a young person today and share in our nation's history. You'll be surprised at some of the unusual and fun facts you will learn.

To find out more information, please visit the companion website:

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

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