Monday, February 18

What To Do About Alice?

How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!
by Barbara Kerley
illustrated by Edwin Fotherignham
Scholastic 2008

Yes, a picture book biography about Teddy Roosevelt's tomboy daughter "running riot" in and out of the White House around the turn of the century.

“I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice." And so it is that while Teddy is attempting to lead the nation his daughter is rough-housing with boys and giving herself an education from all the books at her disposal. Being the independent spirit she is doesn't keep her from being a goodwill ambassador for her father -- though she apparently had the same pressrelated issues that follow celebrities these days -- eventually "settling down" with a fine congressman and being wed in the White House.

Barbara Kerley's name would have been enough for me to pick this up, having enjoyed her middle grade novel Greetings From Planet Earth last year, but the real draw for me are the illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham. For a decade now I've been catching the man's spot and poster illustrations and have always been left wanting more. With his self-described blotty lines his style goes beyond a retro mid-century modern -- the man's work is a living time warp,
it's the real deal, you could take most of his work and drop it into magazines in the 1950s and not know they came from the future.

That said, only about half the illustrations in this book work. I don't know if it as editorial input or if his heart wasn't into some of the spreads, but there are pages that feel a little lifeless compared to the vibrancy of others. I feel bad even mentioning it because Fotheringham's weakest illustrations best a lot of other illustrators top work in picture books these days but given this is his picture book debut I really wanted his work to knock it out of the park. I really want the rest of the world to see what I see. Not that he's having any trouble getting work...

The story itself is a tidy biography of a colorful, spunky girl who happens to have been real. I like this trend of spunky girl characters, and having a real-life character is only better. Much of what Papa Teddy sees as running riot most children and parents today would just call "childhood." This familiarity of behavior makes it accessible to kids now who might find it amusing that what is normal was once considered bad. Alice may have been rambunctious, but it would have been wrong to stifle her, and thankfully Teddy was too broken up by the loss of the girl's mother, his first wife, to discipline the life out of her. A quiet lesson in there for parents, I should think.

I think this is a great book. Double duty for Women's History Month and President's Day
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