By Katherine House.
F or age 9 and older. 144 pages
Katherine House doesn’t remember the details of a family outing to the White House in 1975. A snapshot shows her standing with her sisters outside the presidential mansion. The trip, which covered only a few miles from her home in Arlington, would have been one of many times House’s mother and father tried to pass along their love of presidential history.
“We would drive down the [George Washington] Parkway and she would say, ‘Do you know why those daffodils are there?’ ” House said, referring to the flowers Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson, had planted as part of her plan to make highways beautiful.
The effort worked, because House developed a love of history and has channeled it into a new book about the presidents’ home.
“The White House for Kids” introduces readers to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the address of every president since John Adams. The book mentions the famous rooms — such as the Oval Office, where the president works — but it’s more about the families who have lived there.
“I wanted to tell the stories, more than just one or two sentences of trivia,” House said by telephone from Iowa, where she now lives.
So she wrote a chapter on growing up in the White House and included stories about sending the kids of presidents to school. Quentin Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son, attended a public school in the early 1900s and often rode his bicycle to school — sometimes by himself. All that freedom might not have been a good idea. “Based on what we know about Quentin, people should have been watching him,” House said of the adventure-loving boy.
By the time President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, was ready to attend preschool about 60 years later, her parents worried about the attention from reporters and photographers. So they set up a preschool on the top floor of the White House.
“This was as close as you could get to a real school,” House said. “But the children and the teachers were carefully selected.”
The book includes a photo of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy coloring during a visit to Caroline’s class.
House also gives details about Susan Ford’s prom — the only one held at the White House — and Chelsea Clinton’s cooking lessons from the White House chef. The recipe for Chelsea’s chocolate chip cookies is one of 21 activities in the book.
Other chapters explore the jobs of the president, the first lady and many staff members who work in the White House. There’s a section on how the first family has entertained, from formal state dinners for foreign leaders to T-ball games on the South Lawn.
Some stories, which House discovered by reading old newspapers, presidential biographies and books written by White House staffers, make the historic building feel like a family home.
Other stories might make kids realize the pressures of growing up in a public place. One example that House mentions is Quentin Roosevelt getting in trouble for shooting spitballs at a portrait of President Andrew Jackson.
“Would you really want someone laughing and joking about something you did 100 years later?” she asked.