So You Want to Be

written by Judith St. George
illustrated by David Small

Judith St. George's So You Want to Be President?
illustrated by David Small

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 7-12

Fun presidential trivia

The cover of this raucous book features Mt. Rushmore like you've never seen it: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy) and Lincoln all look like they're sharing a good laugh.

That image sets the tone perfectly for a book which

  1. humanizes the presidents, and
  2. depicts them practically as contemporaries, disparate members of a small club.

Trivia can be one of the best ways to trick young minds into learning. (Even if they don't want to be president.) Tell a 7 year old that it was JFK who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you..." and eyes will start to glaze over. But tell that same kid that eight presidents grew up in log cabins and he'll be hungering to learn - and remember - which ones.

This is a book willing to state outright that Abraham Lincoln was an ugly man - but one of our best presidents - and that Warren Harding was particularly good-looking but one of our worst. Still, you'll find no partisan agenda here...

Not only is Richard Nixon mentioned as a president who had trouble with the truth, but Bill Clinton is right there by his side, both of them portrayed as shame-faced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.

(Well, Clinton shame-faced. Nixon looks a little more chagrined.)

So You Want to Be President? starts out emphasizing the silly then steers slowly toward the serious - like I said, tricking the young ones into learning.

As fun as the trivia are David Small's illustrations, which earned him the 2001 Caldecott Medal. Regardless of how silly they're acting, the presidential faces are instantly recognizable - at least those whom you know what they looked like - and the eagle-eyed will be able to spot some non-presidential personages as well. (There's Henry Kissinger watching Richard Nixon bowling and clapping dutifully after a strike!)

cropped image

The text following all the fun lists each president (and non-president) pictured, as well as a short paragraph about their tenure. More learning!

The book has only one failing, and it is neither the author's nor the illustrator's fault. A book like this, unless constantly updated, becomes a little more dated with each passing president. Though the edition we're currently linking to, pub. date 2004, includes George W. Bush.

No Barack Obama..yet. In fact, the book states outright that "No person of color has ever been President."

So You Want to be President?

Webmaster's note: If you're looking for a similar kind of fun American trivia book that stays a little more current, you'll want to check out our review of The Scrambled States of America. Anyone expecting a 51st state anytime soon? I didn't think so!

More Caldecott books.

More Presidents Day books reviewed on the site.

More of Steve's reviews.

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