Copyright © 2008 by William Low
Building on the logical links between literacy, historical literacy, and civic engagement, the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance created Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out to encourage young people to read more about America’s rich history and culture; to think more about America’s future; to talk more about our nation’s leadership; and to act on their own beliefs and convictions, ensuring this great democratic experiment will survive and thrive.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough introduces this creative tour de force, in which 108 renowned authors and illustrators have donated their poetry, prose, and art to help advance the cause of young people’s literacy and historical literacy. The illustrations, essays, short stories, presidential letters, personal reflections, and historical accounts in Our White House inform and entertain, offering a window on more than 200 years of American history.
It is our hope that adults will share Our White House with the young people they live with and work for, not only to rouse their interest in our nation’s heritage, but also to energize and inspire young people on their journeys to becoming our nation’s future leaders.
The National Endowment for the Humanities has named Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out as one of its notable We the People Bookshelf selection for its 2009-2010 theme Picturing America.
The NEH is purchasing 7,000 copies of Our White House, along with a selection of other exceptional American history books, and will make these copies available free to school and public libraries across the country through mini-grants.
All royalties from Our White House will help support the programs and projects of the NCBLA.
You can find Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out at your neighborhood library or bookstore.
More Information About Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
To read a list of the professional literature and applied practice resources that support the educational rationale behind the Our White House book and website national literacy project, click here.
To read about the NCBLA’s continuing educational outreach projects, as well as our partnerships with other organizations, click here.
The Our White House book and website have garnered multiple awards. A few of the awards and citations are listed below. To read a complete list, click here.
For more information concerning the National Endowment for the Humanities We the People Bookshelf program, go to: wethepeople.gov.
To read about David Macaulay's process for creating the cover of Our White House, and to see his preliminary sketches, check out "The Back Story: Creating the Cover: David Macaulay's Preliminary Sketches."
Awards and Citations for Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
2009 American Library Association’s Great Web Sites for Kids
2009-2010 National Endowment for the Humanities We the People “Picturing America” Bookshelf Award
2009 American Library Association Notable Children’s Book for All Ages, Nonfiction
2009 National Council for Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies
2009 International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices Booklist SelectionAmazon.com Best Books of 2008
Parents’ Choice Foundation Recommended Book Award, Fall 2008
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2008
The Horn Book Fanfare, Best Books of 2008
Publisher’s Weekly 2008 Best Books of the Year, Children’s Nonfiction
Publishers Weekly 2008 Cuffie Award, Best Nonfiction Treatment of a Subject, Honorable Mention
Scripps-Howard News Service Favorite Children's Book of 2008
Reviews for Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
School Library Journal
* Starred review!
More than 100 authors and illustrators contributed to this wide-ranging collection of short pieces about the First Family residence. Most participants are creators of books for youth, along with a sprinkling of other figures, such as historian David McCullough, and actual White House occupants. Arranged in general chronological order, the chapters are delightfully varied in form, tone, and subject matter. They include straightforward history, brief essays, personal narratives, and even fantasy, as in Meg Cabot's lighthearted time-travel story. The handsome layout and excellent-quality illustrations provide strong appeal. The pairing of words and art is often inspired, as in Maybelle Mayer's paper doll cutouts from 1938 that accompany Nancy Willard's poem about White House dresses. There are powerful visual moments as well, such as the dazzling series of spreads featuring visual interpretations of Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms,” each by a different artist. Many segments convey personal details that humanize the presidential families, such as Virginia Euwer Wolff's introduction to the musical sophistication of the Tafts and Anita Silvey's look at Jackie Kennedy’s literary career. Humor plays a role too, as in Steven Kellogg's artistic rendering of an imagined “Best in Show” contest among White House pets. Some readers will progress straight through from Jane Yolen's imagined conversation between John and Abigail Adams to the first National Book Festival in 2001, while others may browse and jump about; either way, this entertaining introduction to the White House is full of fascinating information, challenging ideas, and appealing artwork.Steven Engelfried, Multnomah County Library, OR
* Starred review!
Eight years in the making, this anthology of White House history convenes an all-star roster of 108 children’s authors and illustrators, as well as a few scholars and former White House employees and residentsand it is a blue-ribbon choice for family sharing during an election year. Chronologically ordered, the entries range from poems to presidential speeches, satirical cartoons to stately portraits; despite the talents of the literary contributors (Kate DiCamillo offers a poem about Lincoln's death, Patricia MacLachlan describes Eleanor Roosevelt’s rescue of a cat belonging to a young girl), perhaps the most striking writings are those that most closely adhere to the historical record. Barbara Kerley details Thomas Jefferson's passion for paleontology, and M.T. Anderson describes White House ghosts (Churchill, visited by a spectral Lincoln, “tapped the ash off the end of his cigar and said, ‘Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage’ ”). But few of the writers create the same impact as the occasional document: Robert Kennedy addresses the nation after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, and Richard Nixon bids farewell to the White House staff. (That young readers will react to these documents is in no small part due to the writer’s success in establishing the contexts for them.) Among the most provocative entries are works by artists who “look in” on the White House with a demonstrably personal vision: David Small shares color sketches of “backstairs at the White House,” a study in contrasts; Bob Kolar arranges the presidents as if on a board game, with clever annotations (who knew President Arthur held a yard sale while in office?); Peter Sís supplies 37 characteristically enigmatic portraits to illustrate freedom to worship. Although a few entries seem formulaic, the volume makes the invaluable point that history does not have to be remote or abstract, but a personal and ongoing engagement.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in America whose attention isn’t firmly fixed on the White House this year. And despite how you may feel about its residents at any given time, you have to admit: you wouldn’t mind being a fly on the Oval Office wall during a few choice moments in its history. Now, a spectacular anthology allows young readers a privileged glimpse inside the president’s home. Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out is a glorious and multifaceted collection that showcases the talents of more than 100 acclaimed authors and illustrators.
Eight years in the making, as a special project of the National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance, the arrival of Our White House is truly a major event in children’s publishing. The book is a treasury of essays, personal reflections, letters, poems, speeches and comics, demonstrating that the most celebrated house in America is simply bursting with stories. The first part of the book includes a conversation, imagined by author Jane Yolen, between the White House’s first residents, John and Abigail Adams. Later, Kate DiCamillo delivers a stunning poem about Abraham Lincoln’s premonitions of his own death. Jerry Spinelli offers memories of a family trip to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1950 and a “Backstairs at the White House” sketch journal by David Small rounds out the display.
The list of notable and prize-winning contributors reads like a who's-who of children's literaturethere's Natalie Babbitt, Katherine Paterson, Jon Scieszka, David Macaulay and Brian Selznick, to name just a fewand the surprising presentations will appeal to both ready and reluctant readers. Which is why a collection like this one is such a welcome addition to the bookshelfit’s a poignant reminder that the story of the White House is the story of each of us.
In this sumptuous pro bono volume, 108 children’s authors and illustrators (with the occasional celebrity, president or other official chiming in) contribute original art, personal reminiscences, short stories, poems and historical vignettes about the White House and its residents. The generally chronological arrangement begins with a reproduction of the mansion’s original 1792 RFP and closes with a nighttime view of an empty chair. In between, it offers comments on the early African-American connection by Walter Dean Myers and Milton Meltzer; Richard Peck’s account of William Henry Harrison's search for a good milk cow; Steven Kellogg’s envisioning of a Presidential Pet Show and much besides. The tone is positive overall, though occasional entries such as a fictive interview with picketing suffragist Alice Paul, and contradictory passages from the 9/11 Commission Report, supply a tincture of controversy. As with Jennifer Armstrong’s monumental American Story (2006), illustrated by Roger Roth, even brief dips into this will leave readers with the clear sense that we do have a national history, and it's worth knowing too. (source notes, contributor bios, index) (Anthology. 8-adult)
The Horn Book Magazine’s Children’s Newsletter:
Reading road to the White House
New picture books about presidential hopefuls John McCain (My Dad, John McCain by Meghan McCain) and Barack Obama (Nikki Grimes’s Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope) are adulatory, strictly on-message, and best thought of as souvenirs for adult collectors. Of far more durable interest, and with something for adults and children alike, is the sumptuous new anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, compiled by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. More than one hundred essays, poems, short stories, and paintings explore the White House and its inhabitants, history, and significance. Topics range from Jefferson’s dinosaur bones collection to Lincoln’s rowdy children to White House ghosts. Presidential daughter Lynda Johnson Robb tells us about her unusual White House bedroom, and popular poet Jack Prelutsky lets us see the White House through the eyes of Socks, Bill Clinton’s cat. The contributors are all luminaries of the children‘s book field. A fascinating, eminently browsable, and accessible entrance into the People’s House. (9 years and up)
Featured on the “Martha Stewart Show” as One of “Eight Great Books for the Holidays”
On the December 15, 2008 “Martha Stewart Show,” Martha advised procrastinating audience members and viewers to “Think books! I do!” as ideal holiday gifts. With that in mind New York Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus shared recommendations of eight great books. Our White House was one of those booksthe only children’s book on his list!
L.A. Parent Recommendation
“This is the definitive White House book for history buffs young and old. Whether you seek ghost stories, architectural details, or personal accounts . . . you will not be disappointed. With amazing artwork and entries spanning more than 200 years from literary luminaries ranging from Charles Dickens to Walt Whitman, Gregory Maguire to David McCullough, there is material enough to keep you coming back for more.”
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
“Our house is a very, very, very fine house.“ Graham Nash (who was born in Britain and became an American citizen in 1978)
Our White House is a rollicking literary and visual excursion through the history and mythology, the hijinks and tragedies, and the family moments that have accrued over the course of two centuries of presidential life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The National Children’s Book and Literary Alliance has brought together the work of 108 well-known, children’s book authors and illustrators. In addition to all of the stories and pictures, editors have interspersed some fascinating bits of primary source and historical material.
Now, some might wonder whether all of that award-winner talk means that this is a book akin to high fiber and low calories: it’s good for you but not particularly tasty. But that's wrong! Above all, I had a great old time reading Our White House, and discovered some really neat stuff.
We learn from such yarns as Richard Peck’s “The White House Cow,” that up through the middle of the nineteenth century, there were relatively innocent times when one saw absolutely no iron fences, no walls, or security checkpoints around the president's house; no armed dudes with shades and earpieces to be found anywhere. Instead, there were family cows and kitchen gardens and casual, neighborly visits.
From Elizabeth Cody Kimmel’s tale, “An Unusual Guest,” we learn that Lewis and Clark sent back a prairie dog to Jefferson that briefly lived at what would (in Teddy Roosevelt’s time) come to be known officially as the White House.
In just a few pages (“Sneaking into Adams Field”), Michael Winerip has converted me into a major fan of John Quincy Adams. I now want to read more about the OTHER president whose father had previously been president.
In a thousand words taken from the 1865 memoir of James Madison's former slave Paul Jennings, my belief in that the old tale of Dolly Madison being responsible for saving the famous portrait of George Washington has been seriously undermined. Those organizing the book did something very interesting here: They situated the Jennings’ memoir excerpt right next to Don Brown’s recounting and illustration of the Dolly Madison story. Thus, we are handed a stellar lesson in information literacy and a great opportunity for debate.
And the illustrators! How cool is it to have the most recent winner of the Caldecott Medal joining back up with the author of The Dinosaurs Of Waterhouse Hawkins to show the story of Thomas Jefferson's spreading crates of mammoth bones (thanks, again, to Lewis and Clark) out on the White House floor? There is a great graphic novel-style look at Herbert Hoover by Matt Phelan, a two-plus-page spread of presidents and their pets by Steven Kellogg, and - one of my absolute favorites - the six page “Backstairs at the White House: a More or Less On-The-Spot Sketch Journal” by David Small.
“...There is something fitting about the house of our country's leaders being inhabited by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, a man who governed during a time of such anguish. If the White House were not haunted by the memory of its past trials, that would be true cause for worry. As for Harry Truman, who was roused from his sleep by Lincoln's anxious knocking and pacing, he was asked whether he himself would ever return as a presidential specter. He said he wouldn't: “No man in his right mind would want to come here of his own accord.’”
From the little-known early-American history to be found in Walter Dean Myers' piece “Slaves Helped Build the White House!,” to the amusing recollections from the era in which I grew up - LBJ's daughter Lynda's “My Room,” Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out is a lively collection of fact, story, and illustration that one can be page through and read like a magazine, or dive into and enjoy cover to cover.