Animal Farm

Children’s Book Explores White House Pets

Posted March 15, 2004 at 2:11pm

One Christmas during Abraham Lincoln’s administration, the first family went without eating the traditional turkey dinner.

It was not the Civil War that kept them from the feast. It was Lincoln’s son Tad, who had begged his father to keep the turkey, whom he dubbed Jack, as a pet. Lincoln, a lover of animals, agreed.

Jack the turkey and other presidential pets get their moment in the spotlight in “President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets,” the latest children’s book written and illustrated by the husband and wife team of Peter Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes.

“Kids love pets, kids love animals,” Peter Barnes said. “We figured that would be a good way to introduce them to the presidency.”

The book gives a brief history of the pets of the presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush. Hidden within each illustration is an alligator, a pet owned by President John Quincy Adams.

The goal of the book, which is targeted to children in kindergarten through fourth grade, is to familiarize them with the voting process at an early age so they will feel obligated to vote later on, Cheryl Barnes said.

“I think we have to introduce children to the concept of good citizenship,” she said. “It means making good choices throughout your life. It is our civic duty to go out and give our voice and be informed.”

Along with the story, the book includes a ballot for favorite pet so children can directly take part in the voting process now, she added.

The couple have written several children’s books on civics and government, including “House Mouse, Senate Mouse,” which teaches children about Congress. The couple’s books are widely read and used by educators throughout the nation, Peter Barnes said.

“It is a way of slipping in information about presidents in a very fun way,” Cheryl Barnes said. “When I go to schools, the [students’] eyes start popping out of their heads. They just become so intrigued.”

The couple came up with the idea for their latest book after first lady Laura Bush asked Cheryl Barnes to illustrate the 2002 White House Children’s Christmas Program, which featured pets of the presidents.

“There were just so many fabulous stories,” she said. “Once it was over, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, the message … is lost.’”

So, using research gathered from the White House and various other libraries, the Barneses wrote the book. While several books for adults have been written about White House pets, this is the first written and illustrated for children, Peter Barnes said.

The book is currently available in bookstores throughout the country, including the House Gift Shop. Response has been good, Peter Barnes said.

“The parents that we have talked to really like it,” he said. “Parents who want to teach their kids about civics and government and good citizenship appreciate any tools they can get.”

Parents find their books effective because they are educational yet entertaining, the couple said.

“They love to read something that teaches their kids something,” Cheryl Barnes said. “They have fun, and then they learn.”