By AUDREY FISCHER
White House, O White House, place of great fame,
Don’t you think it’s a bit of a shame
That for this grand residence,
Home of our presidents,
That’s the best we could do for a name?
While other authors spoke about their books at the National Book Festival, a group of authors and illustrators gathered to discuss one special new book: “Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out” (Candlewick Press).
Created by 108 renowned authors and illustrators and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA), the book and companion Web site (www.ourwhitehouse.org) are intended to expand young people’s knowledge of American history.
“The White House is the most important, the most famous, the most historic, the most beloved house in all the land, and it is filled with—no, overflowing with—stories,” said historian David McCullough in the book’s introduction.
NCBLA Executive Director Mary Brigid Barrett told how the book came about. “We looked for a book that uses all of the arts [poetry, short story, illustrations] to excite children about American History. Ultimately, we decided to make it.” She added, “Whoever ends up in the White House next year, they need to understand that it’s our White House and these are our stories.”
Three other contributors read excerpts from the book: Steven Kellogg, who discussed his illustration of presidential pets; Jon Scieszka, who read one of his poems, and another by Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky about one special presidential pet; and Katherine Paterson, who read her essay on the White House press corps and Natalie Babbitt’s essay about the seven presidents who hailed from Ohio.
Barrett acknowledged another contributor, Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole, who contributed an essay about how first lady Laura Bush and the Library of Congress created the National Book Festival in 2001.
A special surprise contributor, Lynda Johnson Robb (oldest daughter of former president Lyndon B. Johnson and former first lady of Virginia), referred to herself as a “former inmate” of the White House.
In her essay “My Room,” at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Robb discusses what she learned about her room’s strange history. Hoping to be sleeping in a bed perhaps “christened by Abigail Adams herself,” Robb learned that her room once belonged to Willie Lincoln, who died of typhus at age 12, and was the location of President Lincoln’s autopsy and the site of the death of President Truman’s mother-in-law.
“My curiosity had uncovered information that was better left swept under the rug, no matter who had stood on it before,” she said.