Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Greatest Story Ever Told

When I was younger than 12, closer to 8,  my mother's father gave me a book on the Presidents of the United States. It was navy, a hard back and far too advanced for someone my age: almost all words, very few pictures (mostly photographs), plenty of charts and graphs and little to no appeal to someone my age. Visiting my grandparents in Dallas, I had little else to read and so I flipped through this book, certain that it was intended for my father, not me.

Near the front was a half page list of questions, Presidential Trivia: Which President was buried in a casket the size of a piano box? And, Name the only father and son to both serve as President?* There must have been 50 questions, the answers not listed anywhere for me to find. I had no choice but to read the book.

The Presidents were included chronologically. Each section began with a photograph (of a painting where required), a list of facts and then two to three pages of biography, written, not like an elaboration of the fact page, but an anecdotal biography of each man who had, at that time, been President. Their lives and accomplishments were not reduced to numbers, dates and honors, but built into stories that were engaging, stories that I could relate to, stories that held my interest and pushed me to read more.

The book that I was so positive was not for me became my very favorite. I memorized the trivia questions, and then the answers, and quizzed my friends. My goldfish was named Franklin, his successor, after an untimely death, named Truman. James Buchanan, the only bachelor president, fascinated me and for years the only books I checked out of the Trailwood Elementary library were biographies of the first ladies. History was not boring, it was a collection of the best stories I had ever heard.

The book is long gone but the stories and the fascination with history remain. When I talk about history, to my children or the children at school, I tell them the stories. We read Johnny Tremain, Imogene's Last Stand, and Players in Pigtails.  Sometimes, when you least expect it, history sneaks in and before you know it, you're reading the whole book, and loving the entire story.

Kate agrees. U.S. President of the Day courtesy of my ten year old who uses her collection of presidential magnets and trivia for both educational and decorative purposes.

Books: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes , Imogene's Last Stand by Candace Fleming, and Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey.

This post was inspired by Dead Wake, Erik Larson's thrilling account of the Lusitania's last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the U-Boat that attacked it. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

*When I was 8 the only father and son to serve as President were John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. Things have changed.


Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

That's amazing that you can pinpoint the moment when you fell in love with history!

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to go see Erik Larson speak last night. Interesting guy. Funny, too. I had finished an advance copy of the book and really liked it. I liked a couple of his others a little better but really enjoyed the bits in "Dead Wake" about the U-boat captain and Woodrow Wilson.

Love your blog!

-Chris MacAdam

northsidefour said...

Larson's Devil in the White City was the one that hooked me. I love his writing, and would love to hear him speak. I'm all in for a good, well written story. He makes great choices. Chris, so good to hear from you!


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