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Nice Work, Franklin! by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain

 

In this lead up to Presidents’ Day, and with the presidential primaries in full swing, it’s the perfect time to share Nice Work, Franklin!, a dee-lightful and uplifting picture book.

NICE WORK, FRANKLIN!
Written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain
Illustrated by Larry Day
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)

 

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This historical fiction book asks the question, “Do Presidents Have Challenges?” and answers with “You’d better believe it.” Jurmain goes on to explain that those challenges can be personal or national or sometimes both. For Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR as he was known, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it would not seem that life would present him with many challenges notes Jurmain.  “He was rich. He was smart. He was popular.” He also happened to be the cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, who served as an important role model for the career-driven FDR. Destined to do “big stuff,” the younger Roosevelt got into politics first in New York then moved on to running the Navy. It was even looking like he might make a run for governor.

Then, in 1921, at age 39, FDR’s legs were paralyzed by Polio, an illness that at the time had no cure. Rather than wallow in self-pity, the solution-oriented Roosevelt was determined not to give in to the disease. He used leg braces and crutches and exercised to strengthen his leg muscles as best he could. And when he wasn’t up to task, Franklin’s popular wife, Eleanor, got involved making speeches on his behalf. As his health improved, Franklin decided to run for governor of New York, making him the first disabled person to seek office. Franklin, when hearing people’s objections, responded with his typical can do attitude. “The governor of New York State does not have to be an acrobat.”

The start of the Great Depression immediately following the NYC Stock Market crash of 1929 or Black Friday as it was known, meant millions of people lost their jobs. Not one to be easily discouraged, Franklin felt he could do something to lift America out of its troubles. In 1932 he became the 32nd President of the United States. At his inaugural speech, FDR gave hope to Americans with his famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Then he got about the business of putting Americans back to work by creating a government jobs program, giving seniors Social Security benefits and creating funding for the unemployed. He even took to the radio with his “Fireside Chats” to speak directly to the American public. He went on to be elected (a total of four times) and watched the nation rise from the depths of despair. And though he still could not walk, he was responsible for putting the country back on its feet again.

Nice Work, Franklin! reminds readers of the power of positive thinking. Thanks to his can do approach and record of success, FDR will always be a role model for students. Jurmain aptly chose to highlight some of Roosevelt’s most important contributions to American society in a straight forward manner that is both informative and encouraging. Rather than attempt to cover his entire presidency, the author has concentrated on his first term in office, a pivotal time in U.S. history. Day, who has twice teamed up with Jurmain on some other presidential themed picture books, captures not only Franklin’s appearance, but his personality as well. The scenes he illustrated depict a nation desperate to recover and on the verge of great change. Two outstanding spreads for me were the one showing the endless lines of jobless men waiting for soup, and the inspiring image of Roosevelt standing up at his swearing-in ceremony ready to give his inaugural address. Between Jurmain’s anecdotes that demonstrate Franklin’s determination to overcome his challenges, and Day’s artwork resulting from “weeks sketching at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park,” Nice Work, Franklin! will make a welcome addition to any classroom.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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President Taft is Stuck in The Bath by Mac Barnett

PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

– A Junior Library Guild Selection

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President Taft is Stuck in The Bath written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick Press, 2014.

President Taft is Stuck in The Bath (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4+), a new picture book written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, is as good as its cover, if not better, and the cover is just terrific (or should I say terry-ific?)! PLUS: if you enjoy this review, enter our giveaway to win a copy of the book. *Details below!!

I couldn’t wait to read my review copy of President Taft is Stuck in The Bath. I’d always heard the rumor/anecdote that the hefty (and I don’t mean muscular hefty, but big, heavy hefty) William Howard Taft, our 27th U.S. President, had gotten stuck in the White House tub, but I never pursued this line of inquiry let alone thought it was material for a children’s picture book. I was wrong! Thankfully Mac Barnett thought otherwise and chose to dig deep into the archives for this hilarious picture book that will make both parents and kids crack up (no pun intended). As I’ve said, I was ready from the cover and certainly from page 1, with its page-size portrait of a handlebar mustachioed, scowling Taft, to follow this riotous romp wherever it took me. I think you will feel the same way.

By including a plethora of the President’s cabinet called upon to remedy the situation, Barnett has created a cast of characters that do not fail to entertain. We first meet the demure Mrs. Taft. Her attempts to offer her husband suggestions as to how he could be extricated from the White House bathtub are disregarded by the angry and frustrated President. “It’s a disaster!” said Taft. He asked her to call for the Vice President who, upon seeing Taft’s dilemma, could not disguise his eagerness to be sworn in as President. When it was evident the V.P.’s one track mind was of no help, the President summoned the Secretaries of State, Agriculture, War, Navy, Treasury and Interior one after the other. But alas, all their over-the-top ideas proved futile.

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Interior spread from President Taft is Stuck in The Bath written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, © 2014 Candlewick Press.

And though it comes as no surprise that it’s the First Lady who saves the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s the artwork that’s the star here as we see a birthday-suited Taft finally freed from the tub. In all his naked glory, Taft the President is still human.  The book’s uproarious take on this often-told tale may even tempt young readers to delve more deeply into the past of this and other American leaders.

Between Barnett’s delightful usage of early 1900s sounding language, “Blast that!” bellowed Taft. “A preposterous plan.” and Van Dusen’s humorous illustrations (who thought a picture book featuring an overweight man in a bathtub could be so engaging), the pair have managed marvelously to pull off presenting a president getting stuck in the tub in a way I could never have imagined. It doesn’t hurt that, while the anecdote has never been corroborated, Barnett includes an interesting author’s note along with “Some Facts Pertaining to President Taft and Bathtubs” that should not be missed. My takeaway – who cares if this tale is fact or fiction? It’s a lot more fun speculating with Barnett and Van Dusen!

Here’s a link to an interview with illustrator Chris Van Dusen.

* Enter here by sending an email with your name and address included. Be sure to write Taft is Stuck in the subject line. This giveaway valued at $16.99 ends at midnight PST on Monday, April 14, 2014. One winner will be chosen randomly on Tuesday, April 15th. You must first like us on Facebook or Twitter for eligibility. Good luck! U.S. and Canadian Residents only.

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