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  • Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems about Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer
  • Deborah Stevenson
Singer, Marilyn. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems about Our Presidents; illus. by John Hendrix. Disney/Hyperion, 2013. 56p ISBN 978-1-4231-7100-3 $17.99 R Gr. 4-7

Veteran author and poet Singer turns here to the forty-three men who have held the office of POTUS, giving each a swift, often irreverent poetic treatment. Like presidents, the verses are a varied lot: John Quincy Adams has a rollicking limerick-esque entry that notes “Folks found him a bother/ (as they did his father)”; Lincoln’s sparer stanza addresses his fame (“By stovepipe hat, beard, large size,/ he’s the one we recognize”); Nixon’s entry is one of Singer’s self-designed “reverso” poems, appropriate for setting his achievements against his ignominy. The poems often have the compactness of epitaphs but a more interesting complexity of meter and wordplay that makes them sophisticated choices for recitation or reading aloud; the literary portraits occasionally skip some key things (McKinley’s, for instance, doesn’t mention his assassination) but are more often surprisingly thorough in a few short lines. Hendrix’s visuals bring it all to life, with full-bleed mixed-media illustrations that combine the caricatured yet careful linework of political cartooning [End Page 239] with crisply layered collagework. Quotes from the presidents become three-dimensional and intertwine with their scenes, while well-chosen details and clever approaches (Harrison and Cleveland play musical chairs, McKinley crouches in the shadow of Teddy Roosevelt) add perspective as well as amusement. This could be a springboard for performance, a way to spice up American History, or a Common Core–friendly entrée into discussion about the merits of unorthodox presentation of fact. End matter includes a longer description of the office, a collection of presidential biographies, and a list of relevant books and websites.



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pp. 239-240
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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