A book about pets is sure to make me smile, especially when it’s titled President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets. This week, I’m reviewing the newest educational picture book from Peter and Cheryl Barnes. I found the information and illustrations overwhelmed me more than in their Woodrow Mouse books, and yet the topic is so unique and fun that I still enjoyed it.
The Barnes know their audience and have smartly framed President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets with a classroom discussion. Mrs. Tucker asks her class, “What is your favorite pet?” This question will never fail to garner responses or interest, both in fictional and real elementary-school classrooms. When one boy draws an alligator, he receives protest from his peers: “An alligator isn’t a pet!” Like all good teachers should, Mrs. Tucker uses this as a teaching moment. She tells her students that one of America’s presidents had a pet alligator. And while most presidential pets have been quite ordinary, more than a few have been anything but. The oddest: a cow, a kangaroo squirrel, a raccoon, grizzly bears, tiger cubs, and a herd of elephants. How did the presidents end up with these eclectic pets? What kind of care did they need? Were they ever a danger? Answers to all these questions are given by Mrs. Tucker, who is one very informed teacher!
How did the Barnes manage to provide all this information in a picture book? Ah-ha! Therein, lies one of my quibbles. At times the Barnes hurried so quickly that their facts that it amounted to little more than trivia. For example, all I learned about John Adams’ pet is that it was a horse named Cleopatra, for whom he had a stable built on the White House lawn. This is an interesting tidbit, to be sure, but I’d like even more details. Other times, the Barnes did slow down and dedicate more time to their exposition. For that reason, I now know that General Lafayette brought an alligator to live with President Adams. Uncertain of how to house an alligator, the president put it in a bathtub in the East Room, which naturally made workers and visitors a little scared. The other two criticisms I have of President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets involve the illustrations. First, the children’s faces seem too mature. Second, some (but not all) of the pages feel overly cluttered. It is the Barnes’ style to have a lot happening in their artwork, but the drawings worked better for me in the Woodrow Mouse books. Both with the text and artwork, I could see the Barnes’ creating a longer book with less packed pages.
These criticism aside, I love the topic of White House pets. The Barnes have presented their information is a charming style and with colorful illustrations. As is customary with their books, every page has a hidden object; this time it’s an alligator. The “Tail End” includes invaluable resources for adults such as the origins of pets and additional information about president pets. For kids, there is a presidential pet matching game and a true or false quiz. As an extra bonus, the Barnes have also provided a page that shares how they came up with idea for President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets and a page about the Barnes and their pets.
At the end of President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets, Mrs. Tucker asks her students, “Which White House pet is your favorite?” Then she allows the class to cast a ballot and vote. (I told you the Barnes smartly framed their information.) As a teacher, I can see my students wanting to know more about presidential pets. The Barnes have written a wonderful book about an obscure but fascinating topic.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?