Monday, June 26, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: A Kids' Guide to America's First Ladies by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Anna Divito

I'm finally getting to my big 900s weeding project (spring of 2017 as of this writing). One of the difficulties is finding books that are up to date, but not too up to date. I don't want to have to immediately replace things in a year or two when current politics change. However, this combined with my putting off weeding the 900s means that most of my collections of presidents and first ladies end with the Bush administration (if not Reagan). I was cautious about this new title - I don't want to buy Trump materials yet until a few years have passed - but once I started reading it I was engrossed and couldn't put it down.

Krull's introduction covers multiple experiences of first ladies, accomplishments, and interesting facts. Then she jumps into the first ladies themselves. Each chapter covers from one to several first ladies, including a brief segment on presidents who had no first ladies. Readers will learn about well-known figures like Martha Washington, Mary Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nancy Reagan. They'll also learn about lesser-known women like Pat Nixon, Caroline Harrison, and Lucy Hayes.

Krull analyzes each woman's contribution to the office, from women who were ambitious and had political influence of their own to those who suffered great tragedies or resented the fame that destroyed their lives. She doesn't shy away from the harsher realities of women who supported slavery, did not support female suffrage, and the different ways first ladies dealt with their famous husbands' infidelities. She discusses their contribution to their husband's years in office and their work outside of it and the lives they lived apart from their years of fame. Krull also includes a kind of timeline of women's rights, relating it to the progressive influence of first ladies and how they were perceived in their offices. The book ends with the role of Michelle Obama and the modern White House and a brief look at Melania Trump, her prior life and her stated plans for being First Lady.

There is a brief epilogue, list of sources, and index. Krull deals with the various trials and choices of the first ladies in an unbiased and matter-of-fact way. She doesn't shy away from the difficult decisions they made, from the legacy of Wilson's wives, Ellen and Edith, to the choices of more traditional first ladies and the controversies and complexities of the Clinton's election cycle and Hillary's attempts to have a career of her own. Krull stays away from the stories of the presidents themselves, focusing on how these forty women, in a position they did not choose and had mixed feelings about, effected US history and women's rights.

Verdict: This is a strong update for books on first ladies; the sections on Clinton, Obama, and Trump are generic enough that they won't get outdated as current political events change rapidly. The stories are quick and fascinating, sure to catch reader's interest and hold them through the short clips. There are references to presidential affairs which some parents might find inappropriate for younger children, but they're very discreetly addressed. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780062381071; Published 2017 by Harper; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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