Written by Beverly Gherman
Illustrated by Julie Downing
Who knew Andrew Jackson loved to run off and find mischief, or George W. Bush visited the principal’s office frequently, or Barack Obama’s spent many years in Jakarta with his globe-trotting mother? First Mothers offers entertaining, weird, and sad details about the lives of the United States’ 44 Presidents. It gives a unique look at the backgrounds of the presidents’ upbringing, shining light on the so-called backstage life of our nation’s Presidents. This book is much too long to read in one sitting, of course, but one can imagine a second or third grade teacher reading information about a different First Mother every few days. Beverly Gherman’s and Julie Downing’s research has paid off in dividends; First Mothers actually inspires students to do their own research to further understand our country’s leaders’ lives. Some of the facts are funny, such as Nancy Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s mother) used to be a wrestler in her hometown: “She wrestled many of the men in her town.” Other facts are sobering, like the First Mothers and Fathers who died when the presidents were young. This book humanizes the great leaders we tend to de-humanize with our criticism and awe.
Reading First Mothers, causes one to consider ways to excite students about history. Perhaps U.S. history lessons could be structured around learning about a new president every few days and the pertinent historical events of that president’s term. After students read a section of First Mothers, they should reflect on one thing they learned about each president and one thing they would like to research. Imagine how much students would learn if they led the learning their own inquiries and research. First Mothers is an essential book for any elementary class that is learning American history.