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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jack's Path to Courage, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Hyperion, H B Fenn, 2010. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"And so, my fellow Americans,
ask not what your country can do
for you - ask what you can do for
your country.
My fellow citizens of the world:
ask not what America will do for you,
but what together we can do
for the freedom of man."

Kids don't need long and complicated biographical text to get the brain wondering about many events from the past. Doreen Rappaport proves that time and again; and she does so with this eloquent and elegant book about John Fitzgerald Kennedy. We learn much about Jack's rise to political favor and fame following the death of his brother Joe, whose destiny in his father's eyes was to be the first Catholic president of the United States. When Joe died during the Second World War, Jack became the beacon of light for his politically ambitious father.

Jack was a reader and a writer, with a bad back and no aspiration for politics. However, he knew what his father wanted and one year later, he ran for congress and easily won a seat. It was the beginning of an illustrious political career, marked by hope for his country, persistent pain, momentous decisions and a very public private life.

This is a wonderful tribute and introduction to John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. It has been fifty years since his inauguration and I, one of many millions of people, remember it clearly. I was a teenager enamored of the charismatic leader who was loved and admired by the world. I was in awe of his oratory, his seemingly perfect life, and the Camelot atmosphere he and his family projected to the world at large. The many quotes included add poignancy and interest, and will remind those who share this book with today's youth of their own youth (well, if they are close to my age).

His Presidency was not idyllic and this author does not shy away from the mistakes and the drama of it. She creates a clear and worthwhile portrait of the man and his life, from a young age to his untimely death. Matt Tavares' light-infused artwork is a bold accompaniment to the text, providing color, drama and realistic renderings of historical events and people. In his illustrator's note in the back matter, Matt Tavares says:

"Growing up near Boston, I had always thought of the Kennedys as larger-than-life, like royalty. And in many ways, they were. But in these pictures they seemed so real, so human, so normal. I tried to keep this in mind as I illustrated this book, careful to show John F. Kennedy not only as an American icon, but also as a real human being."

Mission accomplished, Matt! 

Doreen Rappaport and I shared the same experience:

"His death overwhelmed everyone I knew. My friends and I clung together for three days, following every detail of his funeral on television."

A timeline of important events, selected research sources and a list of further reading adds fuel to the 'fire' that may have been created in the inquisitive minds of many young historians.

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