Kerley, Barbara. 2008. What To Do About Alice? Ill. by Edwin Fotheringham. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-439-92231-9
What To Do About Alice? chronicles the life of Theodore Roosevelt's eldest daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, from childhood through the end of her father's presidency. Kerley presents Alice as a rambunctious and highly spirited girl who had a knack for driving her father crazy. As a child, she liked to jump on couches, joined an all-boys club, and wanted to own a pet monkey. She tackled challenges head on and didn't want anyone's pity. As she grew, so did her passion for life. Alice would stay out late dancing and bet on horse races, much to her father's chagrin. She was truly ahead of her time.
Alice also developed a love of politics. When her father became the president, she gladly took on the role of goodwill ambassador and traveled to many places representing the United States. During his second term in office, Alice joined the American delegation that was heading to Asia. Upon returning from this trip, Alice got engaged to a congressman, Nicholas Longworth. Eventually, she became one of her father's most trusted advisers.
Through it all, Kerley mentions time and time again how Alice "ate up the world" and lived life to the fullest.
Kerley's picture book biography is geared towards elementary children, and for that age group, she has hit a home run. She presents Alice in a way that children can relate to; she is fun and adventurous and doesn't always listen to her father. She travels to far off places and does crazy things, like jumping into the ship's swimming pool fully clothed. She even has a pet snake! Kerley knew which historical details to include that would likely grab the attention of her readers. This biography is certainly meant to be read from cover to cover.
In addition, Fotheringham's illustrations are incredibly detailed and complement the story in every way. The book itself is larger than a normal picture book, which I believe was done intentionally. This allowed Fotheringham to create these huge, striking pictures depicting Alice's many adventures. They are quite engaging to the readers. Interestingly enough, Fotheringham used a computer to create his illustrations.
Kerley makes use of documentable dialogue throughout her book. An author's note is included at the end where she cites the sources she used to find those quotes. She also includes more information about Alice that did not make it into the story. Kerley's work is accurate, however, there is a plethora of information about Alice Roosevelt that she did not include. I think this speaks to Kerley knowing her audience, as some information would not be appropriate for 7 and 8 year olds to read (i.e. Alice had affairs throughout her marriage, and her daughter's father was reportedly not Nicholas Longworth).
This biography is unlike any I ever read as a child. I would have been much more inclined to read this genre if the picture book format had been around when I was young. My 7 year old daughter really enjoyed reading about Alice. She kept asking me, "Did this really happen? Did she really do that in real life?" as we were reading together. She especially liked learning that Alice had a color named after her. This is another book I had to search for when I prepared to write this review, as she had put it on a shelf in her bookcase, along with her other treasured books!
2009 Sibert Honor Book
ALA Notable Book
Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book
Best Books of the Year - Publishers Weekly
Best Books of the Year - School Library Journal
Best Books of the Year - Kirkus Reviews
From BOOKLIST - "Irrepressible Alice Roosevelt gets a treatment every bit as attractive and exuberant as she was...Kerley's text has the same rambunctious spirit as its subject, grabbing readers from the first line...The large format gives Fotheringham, in his debut, plenty of room for spectacular art."
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Kerley's text gallops along with a vitality to match her subject's antics, as the girl greets White House visitors accompanied by her pet snake, refuses to let leg braces cramp her style, dives fully clothed into a ship's swimming pool, and also earns her place in history as one of her father's trusted advisers...Fascinating."
From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "It's hard to imagine a picture book biography that could better suit its subject than this high-energy volume serves young Alice Roosevelt."
Have students choose someone important in their life to write a biography on. Have them research carefully, including personal interviews with their subject. After the biographies have been written, allow students to share them with the class.
Give students some choices of other children of presidents to do research on. Share what they have learned with the class.
Have a discussion about why some of Alice's behavior was considered outrageous. How were things different back in the early 1900s? What would people think of her behavior if she were to do all of those things today?
Alice described her zest for life as "eating up the world." Have a discussion with your class about what they think this phrase means. Have them give examples from the text that show Alice "eating up the world." Then, ask your students to share what they would like to do to "eat up the world."
The book mentions a song that was written about Alice, "Alice, Where Art Thou?" There was also another song dedicated to her, "Alice Blue Gown." Share the lyrics of these songs with your class.