Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents Book Poster Image
Lively, engaging intro to each U.S. president through Obama.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As you'd expect from historian and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, a lot of information is presented here. Grover Cleveland, Again! offers fascinating facts -- from young Andrew Jackson's habit of pranking his neighbors by moving their outhouses in the night to the fact that James Garfield didn't actually die from the assassin's bullet but from infection caused by the unsanitary practices of the doctors who were supposed to save him. Read straight through, the slender, illustrated book is a lively tour through U.S. history (and its big issues) that invites many return visits to favorite pages -- and encourages further exploration of favorite subjects. A glossary and other supplements at the end are helpful for reference.

Positive Messages

Burns often mixes encouraging lessons from history with the storytelling, such as this, on William Howard Taft's page: "If you were born in the United States and are at least thirty-five years old, you can be president. ... It doesn't matter whether you are black or white; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist; tall or short; fat or skinny; a man or a woman. You can grow up to be president!"

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some presidents have been a lot more inspiring than others -- and to different people. With his focus on showing the many kinds of men who have held the office and the issues they faced, historian Burns may have his personal favorites but takes an even-handed approach to his subjects, praising their efforts and accomplishments and cutting them slack where they didn't do so well. He comments on Gerald Ford, president after Richard Nixon resigned: "Overall, Ford found himself in a lot of no-win situations while he was president. But though many disagreed with him, he never lost the respect of the American people at a time when Americans really needed a president they could trust."

Violence

Historical violence is part of the narrative, from assassinated presidents to John Brown's attack on Harpers Ferry, the Civil War, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more -- but it's described in age-appropriate terms as part of the lives and times of the individual presidents and the issues they struggled with. Several presidents perished due to illnesses long cured today.

Sex

While there have been several presidential sex scandals over the years, Burns mentions only one, and that in vague terms: "Overall, there was only one really bad thing that happened to Clinton. He was accused of lying about something in his personal life. The House of Representatives impeached him for it. That means the House believed he was guilty and wanted the Senate to have a trial to decide. He was found not guilty, apologized to the country, and remained as popular as before."

Language
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reflecting the historical record, many presidents are described as smoking (or chewing) tobacco and drinking alcohol -- and seen from a 21st-century perspective in which these things are known to be bad for you. Burns mentions that Grover Cleveland had secret surgery for mouth cancer, caused by his smoking; he also notes that presidents "have the same problems as other people. One of President Pierce's problems was that he drank a lot of alcohol. Eventually, he died from a disease caused by heavy drinking."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Grover Cleveland, Again! is noted historian Ken Burns' lively, age-appropriate introduction of United States presidents (from Washington to Obama) to young readers. The title comes from Burns' daughters, who as children reciting the presidential roster would shout "Grover Cleveland, Again!" when they reached the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms. Burns takes the high road, sharing interesting and often little-known facts about his subjects, explaining their times, praising their achievements and offering insight and empathy about the things that didn't go so well. Along the way, he offers accessible explanations of some thorny issues, such as states' rights, the gold standard, tariffs, slavery, civil rights, and more. Gerald Kelley's colorful illustrations -- which occupy most of every page -- humanize each man who's held the office and depict vivid historic scenes.

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What's the story?

In GROVER CLEVELAND, AGAIN!, historian and parent Ken Burns teams up with illustrator Gerald Kelley to bring young readers interesting facts about U.S. presidents and help them understand some of the issues and debates that shaped our development as a nation. From George Washington to Barack Obama, every page presents an occupant of the White House -- all men, so far -- with his own story to tell, his own successes and failures, and his own way of looking at things.

Is it any good?

Historian Ken Burns and illustrator Gerald Kelley deliver young readers a visually engaging, information-rich introduction to U.S. presidents that invites lots of exploration and return visits. Whether you and your kids are history buffs (like Burns' daughters, who would exclaim "Grover Cleveland, Again!" when mentioning the only man to win and lose the presidency, then win it again) or prefer trivia and a good story, there's something here to appeal to just about everyone, send readers off on further explorations, and launch some interesting discussions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about presidents and how, in Grover Cleveland Again!, author Ken Burns talks about how kids should realize they could become president. Do you think you'd like to be president someday? What about it would you like? What would be hard?

  • Are there any historic moments in this book that might have gone a different way with different decisions that you think might have produced a better result? What would you have done instead?

  • Up until the 20th century, it was fairly uncommon for a president to serve two terms. Today, it's almost expected. What do you think might be better -- and worse -- if presidents only served one term?

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