Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
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Warm bio shows vice president as regular kid, born leader.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Stories from Joe Biden's childhood, mentions of his adult accomplishments show the kind of person he is, where his values came from. Childhood stories show what growing up in 1950s looked like. Some detail on his efforts to conquer stuttering. One scene shows early encounter with racism in era of segregation and civil rights movement, when his football team went to a diner and the owner refused to let his African American teammate order with the White players. "Joe led the whole team to leave in protest." 

Positive Messages

"Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear," Joe's mom told him. She also told him, "Nobody is better than you. You're not better than anyone else, but nobody is any better than you." "Everyone stumbles," his dad told him, but the most important thing is that whatever happens, "Get up! Get up!" A section in the back titled "Bidenisms" lists positive messages he's fond of saying, including "Say what you mean and mean what you say," "Out of everything terrible, something good will come if you look hard enough," "America is made of ordinary people capable of extraordinary things," "Progress is never easy, but always possible," and "Keep the faith." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joe models positive values of service, standing up for others, treating girls as equals. Joe and his family are White, but a scene in high school shows him leading his football team out of a diner when an African American player is refused service. Another scene describes his learning about struggles of Black people when he worked as lifeguard at a pool in a Black neighborhood during era of segregation and civil rights movement.

Violence & Scariness

Mention that Joe experienced bullying by boys who called him cruel nicknames because of his stuttering; he would sometimes fight in response. "Instead of showing how hurt he felt, he fought with boys who teased him." He's shown in one scene with clenched fists heading toward the bullying boys who've turned tail.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, is a picture book biography of the former vice president, written by his wife, Jill Biden, with veteran kids' nonfiction author Kathleen Krull (No Truth Without RuthThe Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and illustrated by Amy June Bates. It focuses on childhood experiences but includes scenes of him in high school, in college, running for Congress, and being vice president under President Barack Obama, and ends with him deciding in 2019 to run for president. There's no violence depicted, but the text mentions that as a boy he experienced bullying and name-calling due to his stutter and that he would sometimes fight the boys doing the bullying. One illustration shows him with clenched fists. Back matter includes family photos of him as a kid and a timeline of his life through early 2020.

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What's the story?

JOEY: THE STORY OF JOE BIDEN, warmly tells a story of the future vice president growing up in the 1950s in a happy family, riding his bike, delivering papers on his paper route, and playing football. Some images will be familiar to baby boomers, like watching Lassie on television. The book notes that his sister, Valerie, was his best friend, and it shows his early leadership skills (captain of the football team winning the final game and scoring the final touchdown, being elected president of his first-year class at the University of Delaware) and his family's move from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Delaware so that his dad could get a better job. Throughout, it shows his character, the strong values he learned from his parents, and his struggle to overcome stuttering and financial challenges. When his family couldn't afford the tuition for him to attend the local Catholic high school, he did a work-study program, spending summers at the school pulling weeds, painting the iron fences, and washing the school building's 200 windows. His achievements as an adult are briefly touched on in the later pages, including President Barack Obama giving him a medal and calling him "the best vice president America's ever had." Back matter includes family photos and a biographical timeline.

Is it any good?

This fond biography is full of the kind of colorful, nostalgic vignettes a kid might hear from a parent or grandparent about what it was like "when I grew up." But they're all rich in detail and illustrated in charming watercolors (Lassie on the television, catching the winning touchdown pass). There's an undercurrent of the values Biden learned from his parents, his sense of service, and his drive for leadership as he moved from high school football star to law school grad to running for Congress at just 29 years old. While it's a glowing portrait, it's not just a list of achievements you might find ticked off in a campaign pamphlet or commercial. It's an inspiring biography that shows kids a "regular Joe" can grow up to serve in the Congress and the White House. And it shows an example of a kid so determined to overcome his stutter that he would eventually be able to choose a profession where public speaking was part of the job.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the vice president's childhood shown in Joey: The Story of Joe Biden. How does it look different from yours? What parts seem the same? 

  • The book shows that Joe Biden's sister was his best friend. How do you think that affected how he thought about girls and women when he grew up and voted on laws that would affect them? Do you have a brother or sister who's your best friend?

  • What stories of Joe's childhood make you think he'd grow up to be a leader?

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