Who the next U.S.A. president will be is pre-occupying many minds around the world right now. This book takes a stance by telling us about the distinctive presidents of the past, a couple of sentences about every one of them, #1 through #45, and asks us to realize that the next ten presidents are probably alive right now. Who will they be? Such an intriguing question.
The structure of this book is fascinating. We are introduced by wondering who the presidents of the future will be. Then we are situated in four time periods: 1789, 1841, 1897, and 1961. We look at what the presidents or soon-to-be presidents are doing in that year. Some of them are accomplished men and some are still children. How does what they’re doing in that year shape their lives?
In 1789, Thomas Jefferson (#3) is serving as secretary of State. “In 1776, he had written the Declaration of Independence, which includes the words ‘all men are created equal’ — even though Jefferson enslaved hundreds of people on his Virginia plantation.” Neither the author nor illustrator sidestep uncomfortable truths in this book. Rex depicts African American slaves building Washington, D.C., behind the future presidents.
In 1897, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (#32) “was a collector, too. He kept detailed records about his postage stamp, bird nest, and egg collections.”
The book finishes by asking us to consider where the next president is now. The illustrations show a diverse group of people walking through a gallery of presidential (and near-presidential) paintings. “When voters choose the next president, they won’t look to the past, but to future — and the ever-hopeful vision of what America could be.”
We need to consider our future now … and always. Forward-thinking. Voting is our duty as citizens. Having knowledge of our history and looking ahead to what this country needs in its leaders … that’s our responsibility. This is a good book for the classroom and at-home discussions. We’re given some way to differentiate each of the past presidents, hopefully inspiring further exploration, and most importantly we are asked to think. Children or adults, we all have to think carefully.
The illustrations suit the text admirably. Each president is identifiable whether they’re children or adults, and they’re each thoughtfully numbered. There are subtle facial expressions that portray character … and even presidential pets get a double-page spread.
The Next President
The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents
written by Kate Messner
illustrated by Adam Rex
Chronicle Books, 2020