Sunday, November 23, 2014

President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett

President Taft did indeed get stuck in the bath. Maybe. He was a big man - this is undeniable. When one looks into some additional facts (all listed in the back of the book), however, one could understandably draw the conclusion that he did get stuck. President Taft had a tub that was seven feet long and three-and-a-half feet wide installed in the White House. Taft had a giant tub on his private yacht. Another giant tub was installed in his residence after leaving office.

Are these the actions of a man who simply likes to stretch while bathing or those of a man who once found himself stuck in a tub and decided once was enough?

You decide - and have fun with the debate.

If I was an American history or civics teacher, I’d want a book that included people like the president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, secretary of war (why is he not called the secretary of defense?), the secretaries of the navy, treasury, and interior, and the chief justice of the supreme court. That’s a who’s who of the executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

So what if they’re all present to help the president get unstuck from the bath?

But ask yourself (or your civics class): Why is the vice president ready to be sworn in? Why does the secretary of state seek a diplomatic solution? Why does the secretary of agriculture offer a solution involving butter? Why does TNT enter into the secretary of war’s plan? The secretary of the navy wants to send deep-sea divers into the tub, the secretary of the treasure wants to throw money at the problem, the secretary of the interior insists, “The answer is inside you.” Why?

Finally, isn’t it interesting that the successful solution requires all of them to work together? Could the president being wedged into his tub be a microcosm of how government works effectively?

One shudders to think.

Mac Barnett has taken an absurd piece of American history and crafted a story that could be used (at least in the eyes of this teacher) from kindergarten through high school. Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations include preposterous situations, emotional and expressive characters, a fair amount of red, white, and blue and White House decor, and many well-placed splashes and bubbles around President Taft.

Use President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath with students however you wish. Or not. But do let students read it, even if the only lesson they learn is that books can be hysterically fun.

Isn’t that the most important lesson of all?

The bathtub that President Taft insisted was not installed in the White House.
Photo from President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath.

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