Parents' Guide to

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 9+

Enjoyable, if not always accurate, history tales.

Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

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Most of the authors and illustrators in this large-format collection tell lively and engaging stories fairly and straightforwardly; but not all, and the few mar an otherwise splendid volume.

More than most areas of nonfiction, writing history for children is a perilous undertaking, because it's more susceptible to the biases of its authors. It's almost impossible to write about history neutrally, and children lack the context and background to know when a writer is misleading them. Therefore historians must be especially scrupulous when writing for children.

It's confusing enough, for instance, when one story tells how Dolly Madison rescued the portrait of George Washington from the British; the next chapter says that "this is totally false," and the next chapter depicts her doing it. But the worst offense happens in a piece by Milton Meltzer. The veteran historian and author puts forth his opinions (and rather controversial opinions at that) as fact, and supports them with ... well, let's be charitable and say mistakes of fact. In advancing his thesis that "it is often forgotten or ignored that slavery helped raise Jefferson to the presidency," in a series of statements that are debatable at best, he states that the Constitution's three-fifths clause gave "a southerner who owned, say, a thousand slaves ... six hundred more [votes]." This is patently untrue. The three-fifths clause affected proportional representation in Congress, not the number of votes an individual citizen could cast in an election. Allowing such nonsense in, the editors have done a disservice both to the other authors, and to the children who will read this and not know that they are being led astray.

Note from the Publisher:
The contradictory pieces in Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, most pointedly in the War of 1812 and 9/11 sections, are purposeful; meant to encourage adults and young people to read together and use the book as a springboard to discussion. The experience of finding contradictory primary and secondary sources is the experience of all historians. Historians must look critically at all sources, and realize that factual information is seen through the eyes of very different individuals -- no one is an objective observer, so they must seek different perspectives. Candlewick and the NCBLA hope young people will have this same experience when they read Our White House.

Parents and teachers can use these contradictory sections to teach young people critical thinking skills, asking -- Is history only the story of the aggressors, the winners, the dominant? Why do we often prefer to believe the "legend" rather than the actual factual account of a historic event? Why are some voices silenced through the ages? Do you need to seek multiple perspectives in seeking the truth? And on the deepest level, what is "the truth"? Candlewick and the NCBLA believe that in a democracy, citizens both young and old have a responsibility to seek out quality and dependable information sources that represent multiple perspectives, for only then will they be able to ascertain the truth.

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