Being Teddy Roosevelt
Illustrated by R. W. Alley. Ages 7 to 10. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007. 0-374-30657-5
Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year
How I Came to Write This Book:
When my boys were in fifth grade at Mesa Elementary, in Boulder, they both participated in the fifth-grade "biography tea," in which kids had to read a biography and attend a fancy tea party dressed up as that person. At Mesa, kids could choose the subject of their biographies, but I thought it would be more interesting in a book to have kids encounter great figures whose stories they might not otherwise have known. And so I have inattentive, dreamy Riley assigned to read about go-getting Teddy Roosevelt, and materialistic, video-gaming-playing Grant assigned the very opposite figure of Mahatma Gandhi. Perfect Sophie gets assigned Helen Keller -- as a child, I read Helen Keller's biography and was so inspired that I wrote Helen Keller a letter, only to find out that Helen Keller was already long dead! And as a child I also loved reading about Queen Elizabeth I, the subject of feisty Erika's report.
Riley goes to school with Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Queen Elizabeth and many other world-famous figures -- all fellow fourth-graders researching their chosen topics for Mrs. Harrow's biography tea. Riley is Teddy Roosevelt, and not only is he learning about Teddy Roosevelt, he's being influenced by his can-do spirit. Riley may still lose things, like all of his notecards, but now he figures out how to get them back. He still wants the saxophone his mother can't afford to get for him, but now he is determined to earn the money (after begging his mother failed). Mills writes with such a light, humorous touch that many scenes beg to be read aloud. Much information is subtly woven into the narrative, and the gathering of world leaders at the tea is a sight to behold. The black-and-white illustrations perfectly complement the humor of the story.
Bully for Riley and bully for Mills.