Monday, February 21, 2011

The Accidental President

Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt!by Jean Fritz, Putnam Juvenile, 1997, 128 pages, ISBN: 0698116092

Jean Fritz writes delightful nonfiction books for kids.  I first read her biographies of the the heroes of the American Revolution with my daughter in the eighties; then I revisited them with my son when he was in third grade.  Her writing is lively, and she has an eye for interesting details to engage her young readers.  While most of her books are for elementary students, she has written a couple more suitable for middle school readers.

Take Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt!  It's a fortunate marriage between an amazing children's author and a rock star of a President.  Teddy Roosevelt was an undeniable dynamo.  In fact being President was just one of the many things Teddy was.  He was also a naturalist, an author, a cowboy, a rancher, a big game hunter (on two continents), a conservationist, an explorer, a Spanish-American war hero, a Republican politician, a governor, and a progressive.  Not bad for a man who began life as a sickly, asthmatic child.

Maybe it was his early struggles with his health that taught him to appreciate life, for he loved it with all his being and seized every moment of every day.  As a father, he loved to get down on all fours and rough house with his kids, as if making up for the play he missed out on in his own childhood.  Even war was fun for Teddy, as he charged up San Juan Hill with his Rough Riders.  But Teddy always had a sense of fair play and once refused to shoot an old bear.  When the story broke, a company began making stuffed toy bears, naming them "teddy bears."

In 1901 when McKinley was assassinated, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt at 42 became the youngest President.  Roosevelt referred to himself as the "accidental president" and wanted to be elected in his own right.  He was not popular with the conservative Republicans, who sided with big business over the working man, but he was popular with the people and was elected for a second term in 1904 by a greater popular majority than any recorded up to that time.  As President, he made his mark in many areas:  fighting for the working man, the Panama Canal, and conservation.  Roosevelt established 150 national forests, the first 55 bird and game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments including the Grand Canyon.

A visiting Englishman once said of America that it has two natural wonders:  Niagara Falls and Teddy Roosevelt.  Well put.  Bully for Teddy Roosevelt and bully for Jean Fritz for this bewitching biography.

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