I’ve wanted to review Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents for a long time. I requested my library buy it way back when I first heard of it last summer, and I even tried to nominate it for a Cybils. (It was published after the cutoff date, so I will be nominating it this fall!) Nana bought the girls a copy at her school’s bookfair, and they’ve read it over and over again. They’ve shared poems from it at poetry tea time, but this is really the first time I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and really look at it myself.
Well! What a treasure this book is! Singer begins with a little introductory poem that includes this verse:
Who were these men?
Not just names in a book:
the ones who stood firm or preferred compromise,
the ones of great stature (though not always size),
the ones we’ve forgotten, the ones we still prize.
What follows are thirty-some-odd poems in which every president is represented–every single one, from Washington:
He agreed to father a newborn nation–
and never took a real vacation.
A powerful president with lots of gall.
Made four promises, kept them all.
One thing is certain,
on one thing we agree–
as our first black president,
he indeed made history.
and everyone in between. Some of the presidents are lumped in together, into one poem, especially when they’re closely related to each other. (For example, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all share one poem which is about all of their various approaches to the coming dissolution of the Union.) A few of the poems are standouts in terms of form. For example, Richard Nixon’s poem is a reverso (see an example of one here on Singer’s website). Singer’s poetry, coupled with John Hendrix’s illustrations and typography (check it out here), really make this a must-read book. (I’ve mentioned before how much I love John Hendrix’s work. ) Hendrix incorporates quotes from the presidents with his own brand of humorous illustrations which are caricature-like and support and enhance the message of the poem. Back matter includes a paragraph per president that sheds a little more light on his time in office and provides context for the poems. Get this book if you just like poetry or if you want to give your American history studies a bit of oomph. Highly Recommended. (Disney Hyperion, 2013)