Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, April 9, 2020

"I Do Solemnly Swear (Or Affirm)"

In the past one hundred years, humanity has rarely been more humbled.  In the midst of this global pandemic, the importance of qualified, focused and unwavering leadership is vitally apparent.  Those who lead must succeed.

In the United States the Constitution determines how our government functions. Three branches, legislative, judicial and executive, provide for a separation of powers.  Of these three, a new book release focuses on the leader of the executive branch.  The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents (Chronicle Books, March 24, 2020) written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Adam Rex approaches this office by examining what those people were before they served.  This blend of truth and extraordinary artwork takes readers down an enlightening and inspirational path.

Quick: Name The President of the United States.

In an introduction we are reminded regardless of when in history this sentence is read, there is only a single president serving.  It is proposed that in any year, others who will hold this office in the future are already engaged in a variety of activities depending on their age and circumstances.  There are also those who have yet to be born.  These premises guide this intriguing narrative.

We begin in 1789 with George Washington as president number one.  We are told nine future presidents are already alive.  Fascinating facts about presidents two, three, four and five are offered.  James Madison is already at work in Congress.  As president he is the smallest, weighing around one hundred pounds.  Presidents number six and seven, in 1789, are engaged in the same occupation.  Can you guess what it is?  Of presidents eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve, three are children and two are not born yet.

Two snapshots, interludes in the main narrative, reveal little known information about future presidents Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln.  It is now 1841.  President number nine is sworn into office.  Many more future presidents are alive at this time.  Of them, one is the grandson, of this ninth president.  Others are working as legislators, studying law, attending school or serving in the military.  In the next snapshot we are acquainted with the menagerie of pets held by six presidents.  Which one has a bear named Jonathan Edwards?

In 1897 when William McKinley assumes his duties as president, presidents twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty and thirty-one are alive.  One of them is overseeing

a gold-mining operation in Australia.

The following three presidents are still children.  In their youth their activities resemble those of other boys, detailed notebooks of collections, reading biographies, family gardening and playing sports.

By 1961 the youngest president to serve, to date, John Fitzgerald Kennedy recites the oath of office.  All the future presidents including the one currently in the White House are alive.  Of these ten one earns money for college by working in the orange groves of California and washing dishes.  Another is a sports announcer.  A third individual is born in Hawaii.  It is this one who will change the course of history.  We are challenged as readers to speculate about future presidents, some already alive.

What are they doing right now?

Readers will be captivated by the presentation style employed by author Kate Messner in this book. By stating a year when an individual president is sworn into office, she opens the door to exploring future presidents alive (or not) at that time.  She adheres as much as possible to giving facts about each one in the chronological order of their time in office.  To add further interest her Snapshots between years delve deeper into individuals or a common interest shared by several.

Her research, as always is meticulous.  She searches for those unusual, but important, pieces of information about each man.  These details offer a fact-based view and history of this country's leaders.  Here is a passage about

President 12, four-year old Zachary Taylor, was living with
two older brothers on the Kentucky farmland his father had
been given for serving in the Revolutionary War.

What you can't see on the front of the dust jacket are the raised elements and changes in color.  The word The, the subtitle and tiny design like stitching which acts to tie other items together are in a burnished gold foil.  The words Next President are varnished in red.  An excellent feature is the glowing around the indistinguishable figure standing in the doorway of the White House.  To the left, on the back of the jacket, on a very pale blue background three paragraphs depict the main idea of the book.  A gold star is placed under the first word.  The tiny design loops and waves along the bottom and top.  Figures carrying flags with their number as president are following two children, a young woman and a little girl.  They are holding flags numbered 51 and 53.

On the book case the gold, zipper-like line loops from the left on the back to the spine.  Three tiny stars, white, red and gold are placed on the left.  On the front of the book case is a truly stunning image of the Oval Office focusing on the Resolute desk.  The room is in shadow except for a spot of light on the President's chair and the upper center front of the desk.

On the opening and closing endpapers a pale orange canvas is used.  On the first the golden line from the left takes us to the right and a map of the United States, the lower forty-eight, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Territories.  These maps are placed on pedestals.  Stars on strings hang from the top on the right.  On the closing endpapers, the line waves and loops from the left, where the publication information is shown, to the right.  On a pedestal numbered 16, sits Abraham Lincoln with one hand lifted in greeting.

On the initial title page, George Washington stands on a pedestal numbered one with his left hand raised. A two-page illustration for the formal title page features presidents eleven, twenty-two, thirty-three, and forty-four on the left.  The text is spread across both pages.  Under the text on the right is a pedestal numbered 55.  Six children from all races and ethnic backgrounds circle around it.

These digitally rendered pictures by artist Adam Rex request you to pause at every page turn.  They are an extraordinary blend of the past with the present and of the real with the imagined.  The smallest of details, the historical accuracy and visual interpretation are stellar.

In the first two-page pictures, an artist is painting a portrait of George Washington, the frame held by an African American.  A portion of the American flag supplies a background as other African Americans lift the White House to its place.  In front of this on the right presidents two through five are engaged in heated discussions.  Each page is connected to the previous page and the following page by the element of gold lines.

Whether the images are double-page pictures, single-page pictures or a mix of smaller illustrations together, the seamless flow is evident.  When necessary full color will fade to line drawings. Most page turns will showcase a special blue hue.  Readers will find themselves looking to see where Adam Rex places the number connected to each president.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It highlights presidents thirty-two, thirty-three and thirty-four.  On the left a huge set of sails covers most of that page and crosses the gutter.  In the sailboat is FDR with 32 on the bow of the boat.  The water crosses the gutter and becomes the rush of air as Dwight D. Eisenhower swings at a baseball. (His number is stuck in the dirt of the garden like a seed packet marker.) The ball flies into the darker shaded area beneath a piano. On the piano bench sits Harry Truman legs crossed and reading. His number appears where the brand of piano would normally appear.

There are books about individual presidents.  There are books with collected information about the presidents BUT none of them are as fabulous in format, words and illustrations as The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Adam Rex.  At the close of the book are pages about Presidential Birthplaces, Presidential Requirements, The Changing Face Of America's Presidency and A Presidential Bookshelf: Suggestions For Further Reading.  These are followed by a two-page bibliography.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without at least one copy (or more) of this title.

To learn more about Kate Messner and Adam Rex, please follow the links attached to their names to access their personal websites.  Kate Messner has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Adam Rex has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  At author, reviewer and blogger, Julie Danielson features this book on her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There are many process pieces of art.  At the Nerdy Book Club Kate Messner interviews Adam Rex. Please enjoy this video Kate Messner prepared for readers.


UPDATE:  Today, November 8, 2020, Kate Messner and Adam Rex did a read aloud of this book.  Here is the link  You will love this!  In light of the election results, there is additional commentary.  Many thanks to these creators for this gift to readers.

I hope you will take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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