The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents
illustrated by Adam Rex
Review Copy from Chronicle Books
Messner adopts an innovative, engaging perspective on American History, starting with her title: The Next President. While this is absolutely a non-fiction picture book packed with facts on about the last forty-five presidents, Messner's divides them, not by terms, but by how many were alive at the same time, reminding readers on the first page that, "no matter who holds the job right now, the presidents of tomorrow are always out there somewhere." Rex's illustrations are filled with diversity and humanity, from the bookends of the scenes in the museum to the presidents' pages, where African Americans can be seen painting Washington's portrait and building the capitol. Rex brings expression and humanness to past presidents, whether portrayed as children or young men, in action or in portrait, illustrating the variety of experiences. While there are a lot of fact boxes and other details on the page, Rex's illustrations flow seamlessly through the centuries, the moments he chose to capture, adding energy and emotion to the text.

In 1789, when Washington took office, nine future presidents were already alive, with four of them working at the nation's new capitol. Working her way up to John F. Kennedy, Messner delivers fascinating fact nuggets about each president. Did you know that, twenty-three years before he became president, Andrew Jackson was shot in a duel and the doctors could not remove the bullet next to his heart? And who knew that Mrs. Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca that she walked on a leash? In 1961 when Kennedy became the 35th president, the next TEN presidents were alive, shining shoes and picking cotton (Johnson), serving on a school board (Carter) and "attending New York Military Academy where his father had hoped he'd learn some discipline." Messner ends her book where she started, where so many of us are now, looking forward into the future, thinking about the next president. 
The penultimate spread returns to the museum of the first pages, in a new gallery. Portraits of JFK and President Obama can be seen on the walls. A little girl stands, looking up, fists on her hips in a power pose, viewing a portrait of Hillary Clinton, the first woman "nominated by a major party for the highest office in the land." An empty portrait frame, the number 46 next to it, hangs next to President Obama. Messner reminds readers, "America is always changing. And it is changing now. When voters choose the next president, they won't look to the past, but to the future - and the every hopeful vision of what America could be." Before the final page turn, Messner asks, "So where is the next president? At least TEN of our future presidents are probably alive today. . . What are they doing now?"
This is the book that I need right now, and, I'm guessing, the book that many parents, caregivers and educators need right now. For many children, the last four years will be the four years they remember most when they think about the president of their childhoods. We need to remind them now, and often, whether we use the current president as an example or not, that the office of president, the person who seeks to lead our nation, is someone who has spent their life, "listening, learning and getting ready to LEAD." You can add on adjectives that you believe describe a person who is presidential, like integrity, compassion, intelligence, courage, and strong communication skills if you want. . . 

Messner and Rex's book does this without calling out or bad mouthing anyone, and, while it may make me bite my tongue when reading out loud, I admire that. Back matter includes a map of America showing presidential birthplaces, while another page lists presidential requirements, recommended reading and a note on, "The Changing Face of America's Presidency." A superb, two page bibliography follows. 

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