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White House book a must-have

| Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

Have you ever slept in a tent?

How about a teepee• Ever slept in an igloo, a yurt, or a mud hut• Spent the night in a building made of grass or glass, twigs or paper• What about a castle• Have you ever slept in a house that floats?

Now imagine living in a dwelling that was built more than 200 years ago, all by hand and without machines. Imagine sleeping in a place that's been home to more than 40 families plus dogs, cats, horses, an alligator and a goat. That place is "Our White House" and in the book by the same name, created by 108 authors and illustrators and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, you'll learn about that house and the people who lived in it.

Long before the home for our presidents was built, architects looked at the grounds and saw a mosquito-filled swamp surrounded by fields. A stone-cutter and his son began carving and crafting the magnificent house, despite a bit of jealousy and rivalry. Mary Brigid Barrett imagines what it must've been like, while Walter Dean Myers reminds us that slaves had a hand in the building, too.

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was a very brave man, according to Stephanie Loer. Jefferson had a kitchen garden (a garden near the kitchen door) and he actually planted, grew and -- gasp! -- ate a tomato ! That was when people thought tomatoes were poison, but Tom taught them otherwise.

By the way, did you know that Thomas Jefferson loved dinosaurs• Did you know that the White House he lived in is not the same White House you see in Washington now• In fact, did you know that the first 25 Presidents, technically speaking, really didn't live in the "White House"?

Native Americans were frequent visitors to the White House during President Lincoln's time. Some of them, says Joseph Bruchac, were disappointed that the President didn't speak well (he did; it was just a misunderstanding).

From George W. to George W., "Our White House" is a great book to read when you want to learn about the history behind the little shack where the president lives.

Do your kids have a definite opinion on the political process this year• Do you know a future U.S. President who wants to learn about his or her someday-home• If so, this is the book to get.

I was stunned at the work included in "Our White House." You and your child will read articles by Charles Dickens, John Scieszka, Lynda Johnson Robb and more. There's a beautiful poem in here by Kate DiCamillo. Matt Tavares contributed illustrations, as did Mark Teague and others. With so many talents coming together, you know this book is well-worth having for this and plenty of elections to come.

Although it might be tempting to get this book for gradeschoolers, much of what's in here is probably beyond them. But if your 12-years-old-and-up young historian is loving this political year, "Our White House" is definitely a book to have in your house.

Additional Information:

'Our White House'

Created by 108 Renowned Authors and Illustrators and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, with an introduction by David McCullough

Publisher: Candlewick Press, $29.99, 242 pages, includes index

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