JFK

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
JFK Book Poster Image
Inspiring biography has bold, realistic artwork.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

JFK links Kennedy's personal characteristics with various accomplishments in his life and career. Kids will learn about his boyhood, family, and military service as well as a few of his difficult decisions. The accompanying full-page illustrations were based on photographs and fill out the complete historical picture. 

Positive Messages

Kennedy believed in using words and exhausting verbal negotiation before plunging into fighting and war. He also believed that we should all stand up against racial prejudice and injustice. Above all, he tried to give people hope and inspire them to public service. He believed what he said when he told Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though this biography does admit that Jack Kennedy was not a perfect man, it focuses only on the things that made him a person, politician, and president to be admired and imitated. He was honest and courageous and sought public service when he could have settled for a life of privilege and luxury. He promoted intelligent action, reading, writing, and a positive, can-do attitude toward what needed to be done.

Violence & Scariness

This story begins with the Dallas assassination and later includes talk of the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear weapons threat. However, none of this is graphic or explicit, and it's necessary to the story.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that JFK by Jonah Winter is definitely pro-Kennedy but not overly sentimental. This picture-book biography of the 35th president of the United States does mention that Kennedy was not a perfect man, though he was extraordinary in so many ways. By focusing on the personal characteristics that made Kennedy such a popular, productive politician as well as an admired man, it shows how these characteristics helped him face difficult problems such as the civil rights movement and the Cuban missile crisis and arrive at solutions. Factual anecdotes with just enough detail to explain clearly but not to overdo it for young readers provide a solid understanding of why Kennedy is so well-remembered. Parents may have to answer questions from inquisitive kids about those years in American history and the Dallas assassination, but this book is a terrific jumping-off point for learning about the Kennedy years. 

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What's the story?

Jonah Winter does more than list the facts of John F. Kennedy's life in this biography. He sets Kennedy's story within his own. When he was only 1 year old, he watched the Dallas presidential parade atop his father's shoulder. He did not see the assassination, but that anecdote immediately rivets the attention of any older reader who already knows what happened that day -- and it makes the whole story more personal. Without dwelling too heavily on that tragedy, Winter goes on to explain what kind of boy Jack was and what made him such a popular, successful politician and president. He backs his claims with a few well-thought-out, true examples that show how JFK's love of words and commitment to public service helped him find just the right political and personal balance in some very difficult situations -- for example, during the civil rights struggle and the Cuban missile crisis.

Is it any good?

Though there are many JFK books out there, this is among the best for young readers. The writing is personal and friendly, and the stories are clearly told with enough detailed information to make this a serious biography. It follows the chronological path of Kennedy's life but focuses more on the things about him, as a boy and man, that made him an admirable political leader.

All this is enriched by the wonderful artwork of A.G. Ford. From the smiling face of JFK on the cover to the vibrant, engaging, full-page illustrations inside, the art adds to the historical truth of the story. Both kids and parents will take away something hopeful. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Jack Kennedy's love of words. How did that help him when he was the president? Which do you think works better, talking or fighting? Why? 

  • How does the art in JFK help tell the story? What do the pictures add?  Do the pictures look like they were copied from photographs? Does that help the story seem real? 

  • What did Kennedy mean when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country"?

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