First Mothers

First MothersFirst Mothers.  Written by Beverly Gherman.  Illustrated by Julie Downing.   Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.  64 pages.  Publisher recommends for grades 1-4.  ISBN: 9780547223018.

When I was a kid, I would have poured over this book for hours at a time.

The text supplies facts and anecdotes about the mothers of each of the presidents of the United States. James Madison’s mother called him Jemmy. Franklin Pierce’s mother shocked people by wearing skirts that didn’t cover her ankles.  Barack Obama’s mother’s name was Stanley Ann because her father wanted a boy when she was born.  After being teased all the way into high school, she changed her name to Ann.

The illustrations match the humor of the text, and they add historical context by showing the dress and common items of the time. For example, Sara Delano Roosevelt’s spread has a picture of a very early typewriter. Rebekah Baines Johnson’s spread has a typewriter that looks much more modern. Stanley Ann Dunham doesn’t have a keyboard at all, but it does have a Blackberry.

There is no formula for the spreads about the mothers. Some spreads are two pages, some half a page. The kind of information told about each mother varies. The only constant is that the birth, marriage, birth of president and death dates are given for each, The death date for Lillian Carter is transposed. Its1938 when it should be 1983. I checked a few other dates and found that the death date for Jane Randolph Jefferson doesn’t correspond to the date given on Wikipedia.

This is not in any way a text book. Instead, the book celebrates the mothers who gave birth to presidents, and it celebrates the presidents. In many cases, after reading the spread about the mother I wanted to know more about the son.  I was surprised by how many presidents’ mothers gave birth to a large number of children. I was saddened by how many presidents mothers lost their husbands early in their lives, and how many lost children. I was interested in how many mothers taught their children to read using the Bible.

This book is fascinating and fun. I want to leaf through it again today, and I’ll probably want to leaf through it tomorrow, and if I’d had it when I was a kid before video games, I’d have leafed through it until the pages were wrinkled.

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2 thoughts on “First Mothers

  1. Pingback: Picky Readers Are Like Picky Kitties « Imagination Soup | Fun Learning and Play Activities for Kids

  2. This looks very interesting. I have been interested in First Mothers after hearing how Barack Obama’s mother woke him up at 4am to do English schooling while in Indonesia. I really admire that.
    This looks very interesting- but I wonder how many kids are interested in other people’s mothers?

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